How can employers encourage healthy lifestyles without size-ist attitudes?

Cycling to the office, ditching the dairy or going for a dry January? Signing up for a healthy lifestyle change can kick-start your new year but when you’re at work, it’s tricky to stick to resolutions.

Monday (9 January) marks the start of JanUary 2017, an initiative run by the National Obesity Forum. It’s encouraging people to pledge to improve their health, by being more physically active or avoiding snacks, for example.

As most people know, combining lifestyle changes with the daily grind is easier said than done. Longer hours, shift working, and commuting make it hard to find time and energy to exercise or cook from scratch. And in the office itself, there are plenty of temptations from after-work drinks to slices of birthday cake.

In fact, according to the Faculty of Dental Surgery the so-called ‘workplace cake culture’ is fuelling obesity and poor oral health. It recently suggested that people cut down on sugar consumption at work and go for healthy options instead.

Prof Nigel Hunt, dean of the faculty at the Royal College of Surgeons also weighed into the debate. He said employers should make a New Year’s resolution to “combat cake culture” in 2017.

However, it’s also vital that employers create a supportive workplace and not a size-ist, bullying culture. So, how can employers encourage all employees be healthy, no matter what their weight?

Should they ban sugary treats in the office? Is there a written policy about discrimination on account of size? And should reasonable allowances be made for those who are overweight or obese?

Please add your suggestions in the comments below.

For more on the subject, here’s Katherine Maxwell, partner and head of employment law, Moore Blatch.

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3 thoughts on “How can employers encourage healthy lifestyles without size-ist attitudes?”

  1. Rather than banning cakes and treats, at a time when all employees can ask for flexible working anyway, employers could encourage and support their employees new year’s resolutions by flexing their working hours to allow them to get to the gym, or attend their choice of exercise class. Employers could even think about offering (and possibly subsidising) on site yoga or boot camps either at lunchtime or at the end of the working day – so staff don’t necessarily have to leave early to get there.

  2. The key words are “work place culture”! We have all visited places where there is a prevailing culture, whether it is a family home, an office or even a country; its hard to describe but easy to recognise. A couple of years ago the local authority where we work ran a contest across the region; we all signed up and started to record our daily physical exercise and were awarded scores accordingly. A real sense of competition and team effort started almost at once. Work places with a bad culture will create risks for employers and employees alike, whether it be a risk of being bullied, demoralised or unfit and therefore unhealthy and prone to illness, absences, reduced productivity etc. How to engage a work force and to create a healthy, happy, “good” culture is not easy, but to ignore it is to create enormous risks. Easiest way to create a bad culture? Ban cake! I suggest we have our cakes, eat them but then feel comfortable enough in our surroundings to go to the gym at lunchtime (subsidised by the employer?), join the work Tough Mudder team (or similar) and engage in some healthy, friendly competition from time to time.

  3. An employer should consider consulting with employees about any ideas they have about making the work environment healthier. Asking the employees what changes/improvements around the workplace might help. This could result in mutually beneficial strategies.

    To facilitate these discussions, which can often be difficult ones to bring up, consider having regularly scheduled meetings either as a group or as one-on-one discussions to talk about health issues. These types of meetings can be held quarterly, semi-annually, or annually depending upon the size and individual needs of the workforce.


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