Public health chief says firms should offer yoga classes, sit-stand desks and lunch runs

Firms should consider running lunchtime yoga classes, walking meetings and running clubs to help reduce the national cost of work-related ill health, according to NHS public health chief Duncan Selbie.

“We want to see every business take a custom-made approach to employee health by looking at what staff need," the chief executive of Public Health England said in an interview with the Observer. "We encourage employers to create dynamic environments, workplaces where people can be more active, move more and change positions, with things like standing desks.”

The yearly bill for sickness absence in the UK is £29 billion, an amount our 5.5 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who make up 99% of the private business sector, should be working to reduce.

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, physically active staff take 27% fewer sick days than their sedentary colleagues.

“Forward-thinking companies are already offering help such as podiatry services to employees who are on their feet all day or group posture exercises for people who stand in the same position for a long time because of their job.

“Employers could adopt group exercise challenges, such as ‘Couch to 5k’ or lunchtime run clubs, and promote active travel like cycling to work. Being regularly active is one of the best ways to prevent and manage poor musculoskeletal health and combat stress, which are both major causes of sickness absence,” he added.

Making sure staff have access to DSE assessments is a smart preventative measure. Qualified assessors can identify workstation risks, provide educational information and ensure DSE equipment is set up properly.

Selbie also suggested colleague camaraderie could help smokers quit. Group challenges like Stoptober introduce support and motivation.

And it's not just physical health businesses should be promoting.

“The main way to reduce stress levels is through training line managers in mental health and educating workforces to increase their mental health literacy, and to recognise the signs which indicate that they need support,” he said.

Introducing a holistic health and wellbeing strategy is an effective way of improving staff health, happiness and productivity. Head to our active working advice page to find out more.

Selbie concluded: “Everyone benefits from a healthier workforce: employees, who will enjoy better health and be less likely to be off sick; employers, who will reap the benefits of increased productivity; and the NHS, which will have less poor health to deal with.”