Ian MacArthur, Head of the Charter Implementation Unit, opened the Supporters’ Network event on Active Workplaces commenting on how in the last few decades workplaces have come leaps and bounds in terms of health and safety; but now, what’s putting employees’ health in danger has more to do with inactivity and the sedentary lifestyle that comes with modern workplaces. Luckily for those in Greater Manchester, there are organisations such as GreaterSport tackling this very challenge. We invited speakers from GreaterSport, GM Moving, Transport for Greater Manchester, Arup, and GM Walking to share with Supporters the importance of activity in the workplace.
GreaterSport is taking an inclusive approach to activity in the workplace. Rather than the typical activities taken on by companies, such as gruelling obstacle courses, lengthy bike rides, and intense marathons, GreaterSport is urging people to instead take a more inclusive approach by promoting simple steps to up workplace activity. One way they are doing this is the #ActiveSoles movement, encouraging employers to allow for comfortable footwear in the workplace – the evidence suggests if people are equipped with the necessary tools (such as a pair of trainers), they are far more likely to get on their feet. “We need to build movement into the day in the workplace” according to Hayley Lever, GM Moving Strategic Manager. She urged Supporters to think about how formal and informal policies, including giving permission to staff to wear trainers, can impact far more employees than traditional activities. Organised sports and the gym are not for everyone, sometimes it is doing something rather than nothing and building movement into our lives that can enable large social change. Learn more about the Power of Active Soles to Change the World on Hayley’s blog post, adapted from her TEDx Oldham talk.
Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is well acquainted with workplace activity. Vicky Le Mare, Sustainable Journeys Delivery Lead, spoke to Supporters about their Transport Vision for 2040, with ambitious aims of 1 million more sustainable journeys per day. One of the key pillars of this vision being to improve the quality of life for all, and for Vicky, this goes hand in hand with active workplaces and communities. TfGM wants 50% of all journeys in GM to be made by walking, cycling, or public transport by 2040. The studies suggest that people would be more inclined to walk or cycle if the infrastructure was in place, “Our residents want change!” Vicky asserted. These changes will be seen as plans to join walking and cycling routes across the city, and with the Bee Network, a cycling and walking network in GM that aims to be the largest in the UK. To learn more about plans for the Bee Network, visit TfGM’s site.
Mike Wilton from Arup, Supporter of the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter and host of the event, shared the benefits they have seen from encouraging workplace activity as an employer. 90% of the employees in their Manchester office travel to work sustainably. Access to sit/stand desks, subsidised exercise classes, healthy vegetarian lunches, and walking meetings (weather permitting) are just some of the ways that Arup is contributing to the health of its workforce. Arup is an employee-owned business, and as Mike put it, “Our only asset is the employees we have so we ensure they are healthy and feel rewarded.” They plan to continue striving to do better going forward, with an emphasis on getting everyone involved.
Beth Sutcliffe, GM Walking Programme Manager, joined the conversation to re-enforce the benefits of walking. While other, more formal exercise activity rates may not be increasing, people in Greater Manchester are walking more. In addition to being the most accessible form of physical activity, walking has a measurable impact on mental wellbeing with benefits for mood, sleep and general health. “The time is now for walking, and businesses are supporting it” said Beth, noting this as an opportunity to influence our workforce to improve society. GM Walking offers small grants, training, mapping routes, and resources for employers on their website gmwalking.co.uk.
There are some simple steps employers can take to increase activity according to John Brady from GreaterSport, such as office activities, walking meetings, break time walks, recognition, active soles, and paying employees for active travelling to meetings. An inactive workforce can be costly for employers, the estimated annual cost of statutory sick pay for GM businesses is £90m. With physically active employees taking 27% less sick days, both parties will benefit from workplace activity. John emphasised, “There is no one size fits all for active workplaces.” For this reason, GreaterSport has developed the Active Workplaces Toolkit for GM employers. The toolkit is made up of 5 sections, business case, toolkit, stories, policy, and workplace news – all designed to help you to encourage your employees to get moving during their work day. Sign up for the Active Workplaces Toolkit at www.greatersport.co.uk/activeworkplaces.