Small steps for man - Giant leaps for ROI

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In years gone by, failure to show significant ROI and uncertainty over just what those ROI metrics might be ensured that corporate health initiatives often fell into the pile of ‘nicety not necessity’. Yet new research has revealed that increasing physical activity not only assists with the overall health of employees but also produces the increase in ROI that organizations are constantly chasing. The supporting evidence provided by Lancaster University will have your employees running like the wind.


The research was conducted on 922 employees of UK integrated energy company, Centrica. All employees were encouraged to par-take in the Global Corporate Challenge (GCC) and were surveyed before and after the program.

The GCC is a world-wide initiative that runs over a period of 16 weeks. Each company involved receives a parcel for each of their employees participating. Each person is given a pedometer and encouraged to take 10,000 to 15,000 more steps each day (roughly 8-10 kilometres). At the end of the day, employees log in to the GCC website and record their steps for that day whilst perhaps also reading some of the nutritional and dietary guidelines the professionals at GCC provide.

At the completion of the 16 weeks, results surfaced that 82% of individuals involved said the GCC had a positive impact on their health. Employees recorded significant improvements in various areas (see box-out) and 90% of those that took part said they intended to maintain their current level of exercise.

CEO of the GCC, Glenn Riseley is on a personal mission to combat increased obesity, heart disease, diabetes type 2 and other health problems with a fun approach to a healthy lifestyle. “People that go for a walk at lunchtime, people that exercise their body when they have that opportunity, tend to come back and attack their work with a renewed spirit…. sitting and eating high fat energy rich foods at your desk while still staring at the computer screen isn’t nearly as affective,” he says.

Mental health & presenteeism

When one chooses to walk an extra 10,000 steps a day through an employer endorsed program, weight loss and increased fitness are obviously the flow-on benefits. However, many may not be  aware that regular exercise attributes greatly to mental well being as well.

Mental health awareness corporation 'RUOK Day' found that "Stress and depression are the largest contributors to lost productivity in Australia, directly costing employers an estimated $10.11bn a year. In addition, workplace counselling for anxiety and stress has increased 68% and 76% respectively since 2007" - clearly it's a problem that is too big to ignore. Fortunately, as the Lancaster Study shows, there is a direct linnk between physical activity and mental wellbeing. 

Riseley states, “We had a pile of anecdotal evidence where people had written in and said in the extreme cases they were suicidal, but by doing something like this it connected them to their workmates, gave them a network.”

Going for a run and getting the blood pumping reduces stress, puts you in a more alert and productive state of mind. “When you get back from a walk you’re glad you went for a walk and most of the problems you set off with are sorted in your head, if not resolved then at least filed neatly,” says Riseley.

A far too frequent occurrence in the work place is presenteeism, which is the loss of productivity that occurs when employees attend work but aren’t fully functioning due to illness or injury. “Let’s move beyond just making sure people show up and let’s make sure they are showing up in the right frame of mind,” suggests Riseley.

Fiona Wissink, founder of Your Health Coach, a service that creates personalised, integrated health and wellbeing programs for teams and individuals, also draws attention to the growing problem of presenteeism. “Presenteeism can have negative effects for companies in the short term – such as an employee who arrives at work despite illness and may only operate at a fraction of his or her normal capacity. People may also be more prone to mistakes, and in the case of contagious diseases – like Influenza – they may transmit the illness to fellow employees, causing a larger fallout in work efficiency.”

Brad McDougall, CEO of Springboard Health & Performance, believes that areas like staff engagement and happiness generally aren’t measured under most health initiatives, and instead fall under cultural surveys. “You’re [usually] looking at health improvements, absenteeism and productivity. Staff engagement isn’t a speciality in the health and well-being industry – it’s a discipline in its own right but I think the integration of those two specialities is one that should be explored,” he says.

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