Does COVID-19 change employers’ position on physical health interventions in the workplace?
Posted on: Wednesday November 25, 2020
Supporting healthy choices
Employers have been aware of the importance of physical wellbeing for several years. But never has it seemed more relevant to promote a healthy lifestyle than during the COVID-19 outbreak, particularly as evidence suggests that being severely overweight increases your chances of being seriously ill or even losing your life from the virus.
Of course, it’s not all up to employers. Employees have individual responsibility for maintaining their own physical health through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle choices. Furthermore, it’s easy to sound patronising when talking about health, and no employer wants to alienate their workforce by preaching at them.
On the other hand, employers can offer advice and support which can make it easier for employees to follow a healthy lifestyle. This could be by removing financial barriers e.g. via a Cycle to Work scheme or supporting their employees to make healthier choices e.g. providing healthy food in the canteen.
The moral argument
There’s also the argument that employers have a moral obligation to safeguard the welfare of their workforce – whether or not they’re on the clock. In a world where corporate actions are increasingly scrutinised, employers need to be careful when it comes to promoting unhealthy behaviours. For example, organising company social events versus promoting an irresponsible drinking culture.
As well as encouraging positive change, employers should take a look at company culture around diet and exercise and consider removing elements which feel out of step with their values. We’ve seen this in other spheres where it now feels unethical for employers to support certain choices. Should the tuck shop go the same way as the cigarette vending machine?
The question of how companies should help people to manage their weight and fitness without invading privacy is a tricky one. By encouraging positive change without seeking to judge people for their choices, employers may be able to approach the topic of diet and lifestyle choices in a way that will be welcomed.
Despite positive news of a COVID-19 vaccine, it seems likely the virus will be with us for the foreseeable future. Therefore, employers should focus on improving physical health amongst their workforce, to help build resilience in the long-term.
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