Is exercise the answer to Britain’s productivity crisis?

2 May 2018 openplay Leave a comment Analytics

According to a study from the Bank of England released yesterday, the productivity level in Britain is at its lowest point since the 18th century. U.K. productivity has fallen by 0.2% per year on average since the 2007 financial crash.

The BOE suggests that this decline could be due, in part, to ‘diminished rates of innovation’. It argues that many non-frontier companies (often family-owned) are ‘failing to keep pace with innovation,’ and that ‘UK corporate governance practices may act as a brake on innovative companies.’

The news of the UK’s stagnating productivity coincides with the CIPD’s study reporting increasing levels of “presenteeism”. This new fad sees ill employees battling coughs, colds and stomach bugs to show up to work.

Attendance is at an all-time high whilst productivity plummets. People are working harder and spending more time at their desks; so how are we getting less done?

We need to change the agenda and shift our perception of what a hard-working employee is. Lawyers working 16 hour days and eating takeaway at their desks are going to burn out. Junior doctors (dare we mention the war) on 100-hour weeks are more likely to make mistakes, often with dire consequences. Sick employees who turn up to work spread illnesses to colleagues and bring down the morale of the office. Work-related stress has caused a 9% rise in poor mental health since 2016.


We believe the answer lies in employee health, both mental and physical. Exercise is widely known to promote weight loss, reduce the risk of disease, boost wellbeing and mood, and release endorphins that decrease stress. Despite this common knowledge, only 22% of companies provide any sort corporate fitness scheme, be it a subsidised gym membership or an in-built fitness centre.

Companies should not only subsidise sport and exercise programmes but actively encourage employees to attend. Google has led the way with their focus on employee satisfaction and well-being. They believe that a varied work environment, with significant staff benefits, attracts and keeps the top talent. They provide on-site gyms and group exercise classes; all their workers have to do is throw on some trainers and head downstairs.

It doesn’t take much to change your company’s attitude to health and fitness. Managers need to be understanding and encouraging of people’s exercise programmes. Many employees report apprehension about exercising at lunch because people might notice they are late back to their desks. Workers are afraid to clock off at six for an exercise class in case they are viewed as lazy and uncommitted.

During an eight or nine hour working day, what difference do 15 minutes extra for lunch make? These additional 15 minutes is all it takes to make a 45-minute workout possible during the day. Consider granting a 9.30am start for those that clock into the company gym by 8.30am. Or for those that like to exercise after work, encourage them to arrive early, so they can fit their work-out in at the end of the day.

Nuffield Health is one of the largest providers of corporate fitness in the UK. They build onsite gyms as well as offering fitness packages. Even if you can’t provide an on-site gym, there are plenty of steps (physical and metaphorical) you can take. Outsource a pilates or yoga teacher who can set up classes in one of your boardrooms. Equipment for these classes is minimal, so easily stored. If you have a little room somewhere, be it in a corridor or spare room, consider installing an elliptical trainer or exercise bike.

Corporate fitness packages are a win-win for employees and employers; for health and productivity. Let these recent studies highlighting Britain’s stagnation and ill-health at work be a warning to all employers. It is time to prioritise the well-being of your workforce and to embrace a work-life balance.

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