As a nation, we aren’t the healthiest. In fact, rising obesity rates have made the UK the sixth fattest nation in the world. And an unhealthy lifestyle goes beyond physical issues too; poor diet can also have a negative effect on our mental health, increasing the risk of anxiety, depression and poor self-esteem.

And mental health isn’t something to ignore. A study from Mental Health Solutions in Business found that there has been a 96.8% increase in workplace mental health caseload with about a 50% rise in those seeking help. Put together, this begs the question: what should employers be doing to respond to the rise of unhealthy and stressed employees? We caught up with Iain Thompson, Director of Incentive and Recognition at Sodexo Engage to get his view.


A happy team

Happiness has a huge part to play in employee health. The happier people are, the better they eat, the more they exercise and the more motivated they’ll be in every day tasks. But even with this information, our own research shows that UK workers are facing a happiness problem, with only 12% feeling that their job makes them happy. So, if the business is looking to address health – both physical and mental – happiness needs to be a starting point.


Happiness is, of course, a complicated emotion and one that can be hard to control. A difficult work day, a personal issue, or just a bad night’s sleep can have a huge impact on how employees are feeling. With the pressures of day-to-day work added into the mix, it can often be a real challenge to keep staff motivated.


Managing stress


It’s no secret that workplace stress levels are on the up and it’s not just because of a big project or pitch. Many employees are facing extended periods of stress every day, which can cause serious problems to an employee’s wellbeing.


If this area is left unattended, businesses risk the health, productivity and overall retention of their team. But the good news is that companies can improve employees’ wellbeing dramatically by encouraging honest conversations, creating a better workplace culture and offering rewards that make staff feel engaged, motivated and more positive.


So, what does all this have to do with being healthy? While culture and colleagues can be a big help to managing employee stress, a lot of studies have shown that being more physically active can have huge benefits in this area too.


Improved health actually changes the brain, increasing blood flow and hormones like endorphins, dopamine and serotonin in the body. It may sound a bit science-y, but all these things have a big influence on a person’s mood and ability to handle stressful situations. So, it makes sense to get personal health right in the business.


Good for health, good for your bottom line


It’s clear that more exercise and eating healthily can make a huge difference to how people feel, but it also does a lot for the bottom line. If a company has an unhealthy team, it can lose as much £73 billion in sick days a year. Add to that the loss in productivity for employees in the workplace, and the impact can be huge.


So, what can businesses do to promote health? Even though it may feel like employees’ lifestyle choices are beyond a company’s control, there are still opportunities to positively influence the team by providing accessible benefits that promote health and wellbeing.


Something as simple as popping a fruit bowl or healthy lunch options on the table can certainly be a good starting point. But taking things a step further and offering benefits like walk-to-work, cycle schemes, discounted gym memberships or even providing changing facilities and lockers in the office can encourage people to make healthier decisions every day.


Ultimately, when employees aren’t feeling their best, everyone loses out. Making sure the business is improving employee health and wellbeing is a big deal – not just for company performance but for productivity, but also for morale and general staff engagement too.