Focus: People Management - How to make work good for your health

Graham Willgoss,

Well @ Work aims to research ways to improve the health of employees.

More than 900 voluntary sector staff will take part in a two-year programme to test ways of making workplaces healthier.

The programme is likely to include stress-management training, pedometer schemes to measure how far people walk in a day, organised pedometer challenges, access to corporate gym memberships, lunchtime exercise classes, diet education sessions, blood pressure checks and smoking cessation sessions.

Well @ Work is a £1.6m research programme led by the British Heart Foundation and funded by the Department of Health, Sport England and the Big Lottery Fund.

The 900 employees and volunteers are from 15 East Midlands-based charities, including Help the Aged and the Nottingham Council for Voluntary Service.

They will participate in one of nine projects involving a total of 8,500 staff from the public, private and voluntary sectors. The programme, designed to establish which changes in the workplace can make a difference to staff health, begins in mid-November.

It will be evaluated throughout by Loughborough University School of Sports and Exercise Science, which will make recommendations for effective workplace programmes in a final report.

Nicki Cooper, head of education at BHF, believes the working environment should be used more effectively to promote a healthier lifestyle.

"Most of us spend about 60 per cent of our waking hours at the workplace," she says. "If all you do during those hours is sit at a desk, moving only to grab an occasional cup of tea, then you are losing a huge chunk of the day to inactivity."

Participants will join in core activities alongside initiatives suggested by staff.

"We ran a workshop in which all 15 charities were involved, and they all had an input into the interventions they wanted," says Heather Woolford, health development manager at Engage East Midlands and programme manager for the East Midlands project.

"We hope that employees and volunteers will become exposed to initiatives that will enable them to make healthier lifestyle choices," says Woolford.

She believes that more voluntary organisations would like to address employee health, but cannot spare the time or manpower.

"Many of the ideas are simple," she says. "Everyone knows what they need to do to become healthier, but their problem is a lack of time. This project aims to show people that they can build this into their everyday lives, particularly when they spend most of their waking hours at work or volunteering."

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