Helping employees overcome unhealthy lockdown habits

With many workers gaining weight, getting less exercise and becoming more stressed during the pandemic, it’s time for businesses to take action, says Louise Abbs

As we start to emerge from the latest lockdown, the negative impact on the health of the workforce is becoming worryingly apparent. One in three people have gained weight and decreased their physical activity. Two-thirds are drinking more alcohol and three-quarters say they are more stressed and anxious.

In total, UK adults have gained an average of 10lbs each, putting employees at increased risk of issues ranging from diabetes to stroke and heart attack. 

With most people keen to get healthy again but unsure where to start, the onus is on employers to help. So here are five steps businesses can take:

Encourage self-care

People are already feeling anxious and exhausted, so it’s important that wellbeing advice doesn’t come across as telling them what to do, or make them feel even worse about themselves. Instead of jumping into nutrition and weight loss goals, encourage employees to think about self-care and things they can do to make themselves feel better.

This could be going outside during the day to experience nature or taking five minutes to focus on breathing and relaxation. By encouraging people to spend time on self-care and be kind to themselves, you can help them develop healthy coping strategies, instead of reaching for the wine or biscuits.

Get people to pace themselves

For most of the last year, people have been surviving as opposed to thriving and few people have the energy to take on another huge challenge. Those who attempt to go from couch potato to athlete overnight are likely to stumble, making them feel like there’s no point even trying. So it’s important to get people to pace themselves.

Encourage employees to work at their own pace and make incremental changes. For example, by going outside for a walk twice a day, instead of just once a day. Or by leaving their phone downstairs when they go to bed, so they’re not tempted to stay up looking at it, which will make them tired and more likely to crave sugar and carbs the next day.

Deploy positive peer pressure

For a long time, employees have been denied the opportunity to exercise as part of a group or with friends, when this might have been the only thing encouraging them to go on that run or attend that yoga group. Some people may reinstate group activity when restrictions allow. But after a year of living in elasticated waistbands and little prospect of a summer holiday to get beach ready for, many others will be lacking the usual motivations to do so.

By bringing teams of employees together and encouraging them to work towards shared wellbeing goals, whether in person or virtually, you can help them to support and encourage each other. Numerous studies show that people who work towards shared wellbeing goals are much more likely to succeed than people without this positive peer pressure.

Get managers on board

People are also more likely to look after their wellbeing if they know their employer wants them to do this and take care of themselves. To help create a culture where wellbeing is prioritised, encourage managers to have one-to-one catch-ups with people and ask them how they’re feeling, instead of just talking about work priorities.

Ask managers to talk to people about what they’re doing to disconnect from work in the evening or at weekends, so they have time for themselves. Talk about what they’re personally doing to stay healthy to encourage employees to think about this also. The more wellbeing becomes part of the everyday conversation, the more it becomes part of the culture.

Utilise an employee wellbeing app

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to wellbeing. You could conduct a survey to try and work out what most people need, but different people will have different challenges and needs. So an employee wellbeing app could be a powerful way of giving everyone immediate access to what they personally need most right now.

Look out for apps that contain interactive wellbeing resources and tools for developing healthy habits. Look for those that offer tools to cover a mix of physical and mental health, such as mindfulness, meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy, which can reduce stress and anxiety levels and boost physical wellbeing as well.

Louise Abbs is managing director of PAM Life App and PAM Wellbeing