Business needs to meet the NHS halfway
Posted on 25th May 2023 at 07:33
Supporting your staff to make healthy lifestyle choices
There is an old joke about a holy person who prays every day to their god for the winning lottery numbers. This continues for many weeks until one day their god, in a booming and exasperated voice, bellows down to them “meet me halfway, buy a ticket”. I sometimes feel like the NHS is trying to tell us all the same thing.
It’s no big mystery what the major cause of illness and disease most people are suffering from in UK hospitals is. As Manchester based GP Dr Rangan Chatterjee explains , after 20 years practicing medicine in the NHS its time to take a stand and make clear doctors can’t cure 80% of the patients that walk through their doors with medicine—because the cause of their illnesses are their own lifestyle choices. While the NHS can give treatment to help with your symptoms, its up to us to take care of ourselves and meet them halfway.
What do I mean by illness? Let’s start with the single biggest killer of adults in the UK: coronary heart disease (CHD). The leading cause of heart attacks (75,000 every year in the UK according to the British Heart Foundation ), CHD is mainly caused by high cholesterol diets. These same poor diets are also the major cause of strokes in the UK, of which there are over 100,000 every year according to the UK Stroke Association. Another significant cause of death in the UK is dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; the likelihood of developing both illnesses has been connected with high cholesterol diets.
There are of course many other risk factors to major diseases also linked to our lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol, lack of physical activity, stress, lack of sleep, and lack of social interaction. These are the significant risk factors in all the major diseases in the UK including diabetes, cancer, influenza and pneumonia as well as those I have already mentioned.
Sadly, most of us have learned that our risk of getting one of these diseases is luck or down to our family history, age, or ethnic background. While these factors have a role to play in the likelihood of developing an illness, they are—in most cases—very small risk factors accounting for less than 10% of disease, with lifestyle choices accounting for far more . Even if you have a family history of a disease like cancer. You can have a much greater contribution to reducing your risk of disease by making healthy lifestyle choices. It’s not a done deal that we all must suffer and die from these diseases.
The NHS has been trying to tell us this for years, but it can be very hard for people to access the time, energy, and resources required to listen and act on this advice. The NHS website is an excellent source of practical advice; on their “Live Well” webpage, you will find advice on healthy weight, exercise, sleep, eating well, alcohol advice, quitting smoking, and 5 steps to mental wellbeing. We really couldn't ask for any more information, we must ensure we are doing our best to meet the NHS halfway by taking action. I understand developing healthy habits is hard, and I am not blaming anyone for their own ill health. We live in a society where you and I are fighting billion-dollar industries that are designed to keep you watching TV and eating junk food. To fight back and develop a healthy lifestyle is a real challenge for us all, so I would also recommend reading the work of James Clear in his excellent book Atomic Habits, and I would also recommend books by Dr Chatterjee who I mentioned earlier, and Dr Michael Greger with his informative and amusing videos at NutrionFacts.org.
So, what has this got to do with business? If its up to us as individuals to make these choices, why should employers care? Well, it does matter to business for two very good reasons. Firstly, there is a moral perspective; we spend most of our life at work and so our business practices’ have a huge impact on how easy it is for staff to keep healthy. Secondly, using a more ‘commercial’ point of view, healthy staff are happier staff which are therefore the most productive and effective staff you can employ. Staff are less likely to leave or take time off work with sickness if they are happy and healthy at work. This is also not a secret; we have known about this at least since American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s paper in 1943 on human motivation which is often represented in his famous hierarchy of needs pyramid, but there have been plenty of other similar studies since showing the link between looking after your staff and a highly motivated, productive, and loyal workforce.
So here are my top ten tips on how your Business can meet the NHS halfway and help keep your staff healthy and happy.
1. Talk about it . Put health and wellbeing on your meeting agenda. Consult and discuss with your own team. Hopefully you will find a host of good ideas and suggestions about easy changes you can make to improve how you support them to stay healthy.
2. Encourage physical means of commuting to work . Finding time to exercise is difficult. If staff can walk or cycle even part way to work, some of the time, it is an easy way to fit this in. Plus, you will find that staff who exercise before work are more productive at work and staff who exercise on the way home are less stressed when they get home helping to contribute to a happy home life. There are plenty of barriers you can remove including providing a lockable cycle shelter, and a changing room ideally with a shower, allowing a little time for staff to arrive and change before or after work. This time will be more than made up for in other ways. See also the cycle to work scheme at www.cyclescheme.co.uk.
3. Protect break times . Long days without breaks are less productive than shorter days with regular breaks. There are exceptions when deadlines must be met but working through breaks and lunch should not be the accepted norm in any place of work. Be flexible, some staff might want to take a longer lunch so they can run or visit a nearby gym, and then make this time up at the end or beginning of the day. Lead by example, if the boss doesn’t take a break no one else will feel comfortable taking their breaks.
4. Only provide healthy food options . I run lots of training courses and when the client provides lunch it is nearly always meat sandwiches, crisps, cake, and cans of coke. Its hard to imagine a less nutritious meal. I am told “we have tried providing a fruit bowl but no one eats its”. Well, if it’s a choice next to Mars Bar they won’t because high fat – high sugar foods are addictive, and we all crave them. If you’re paying for the food, it’s relatively simple to only provide healthy options. You might get a few moaners, but it is only one meal, and if they complain you can always remind them—at least it’s free! They can still eat junk food if they must when they get home and those people trying to eat healthy at work will be very grateful you have taken temptation away from them.
5. Provide Training . Some of this is common sense but it is far from common practice. At East Saxon Training we offer a range of training courses for business to help with work related stress, healthy living, motivation, and achieving a work-life balance that leads to a successful workforce. We also provide management skills courses to support you. We find these skills are not taught at schools and university; we all need a little help sometimes.
6. Support social connections . Social connections are very important part of a healthy lifestyle. While taking the team out to get drunk at the local karaoke bar is one option, thing about what else you could do on a healthier theme. Perhaps on a summer evening a local family footpath walk with your team, or perhaps start a sign up sheet to attend an evening class together on yoga, tai chi or local sport group. It won’t be for everyone but if you don’t try different ideas you will never know what might work.
7. Support local sport groups . Sport has the double benefit of physical exercise and social interaction which is essential for a happy life. Find sports clubs near you and see how your business can connect. Perhaps reduced gym membership for staff or a weekly staff seven-a-side netball game. Get involved and support your community.
8. Make it part of your recruitment process . Jim Rohn once famously stated “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. So, if you employee people with no healthy habits, you will create a culture at work of people who don’t believe in healthy habits which makes it increasing difficult to support those who do. Something to consider at the interview stage as a healthy lifestyle is unlikely to be something you can teach a new employee whereas other workplace skills and experience, they can learn from you. If they don’t want to look after their own health, do you really want them to look after your business?
9. Make it part of your appraisal process . Building o n the recruitment idea how can you support staff with to be healthier. Not an easy topic to bring up at an appraisal is it. But you may be surprised if when discussing with them their personal development plan for the year perhaps ask is there anything outside of work, we can help you with – and see what response you get. Most people I meet want to get healthier and welcome some help and support when this is done in a non-judgemental way. Perhaps agreeing someone can leave work 30 minutes earlier twice a week to go the gym might change their life.
10. Don’t give up . None of this is easy otherwise our hospital beds would not be full of people suffering from long term illness. Nothing worth doing is easy, keep it on the agenda, keep working at it. You will have success and failure in equal measure I am sure, but this stuff maters, what can be more important than helping others to be happy and healthy?
David Hewitt works as a trainer for East Saxon Training sharing his 30 years’ experience in a wide range of courses for business. To find our more email email@example.com
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