Promoting physical activity is good business


3rd July 2019

Few people dispute the overwhelming evidence supporting the positive impact of physical activity on our mental health - the link between good physical health and good mental health is now well established.

However, whilst employers are becoming increasingly aware of their responsibilities with regards to their employees, there’s more we can do to raise awareness of the fact that promoting a culture of physical activity, as a means of supporting our physical health and our mental health, is good business.

 Encouraging an active workplace culture may seem like a blurring of the lines between the professional and personal, but this is actually about deriving a productivity dividend from good workforce mental health, and promoting good physical health as a means of achieving that.

There is a lot of research on the negative impact of poor mental health on the economy - the economic impact of the number of sick days and long term absences - but my experience in senior management in professional consultancy practices suggests a more positive and proactive emphasis is a more effective approach.

Rather than considering poor mental health as a business problem and trying to deal with it reactively, we should consider the business opportunity of proactively promoting good mental and physical health. The Mental Health Foundation estimates that addressing workplace wellbeing increases productivity by as much as 12 per cent.

At Lindsays, we sponsor Scottish Athletics and Eilish McColgan, one of Scotland’s finest athletes and two-time Olympian. This is not just about promoting our legal services to Scotland’s runners, but there is a wider strategic consideration about promoting physical activity to our employees and clients. Eilish frequently talks about her journey at events for our lawyers and clients. The inspiration she provides, and the business application of the personal qualities she embodies, is plain to see. Having Eilish involved with Lindsays isn’t just good for our brand, it’s good for our people, which is good for our business.

I was rather struck by a line in a blog Eilish wrote for our website recently, where she said “It's easy to support someone at the top of their game but to stand behind someone when they have been at their lowest, takes belief and courage.” It made me wonder if businesses support people when they’re not feeling at the top of their game. Frankly, the research shows they don’t.

Until recently, I had the pleasure of serving as Vice Chair of the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) in addition to my roles in business and sport. Research from the SAMH managed programme, See Me, with Scottish workers revealed that 48 per cent of people did not feel they could tell their employers about a mental health problem for fear of losing their job.

The findings also revealed a gap between workers’ health needs and their confidence in how employers can support them – 31 per cent of respondents confirmed that they had experienced a mental health problem, yet just 22 per cent felt people in their workplace had a good understanding of the importance of employee mental health.

More worrying is that only 30 per cent believed that their manager cared about their emotional wellbeing, and 46 per cent did not feel someone in their workplace with a mental health problem would be supported by management.

 In 2018, SAMH published an excellent toolkit in the form of Scotland’s Mental Health Charter for Physical Activity and Sport. The Charter provides tangible actions that organisations can take to promote the important link between mental and physical health. Whilst the Charter is targeted at physical activity and sporting communities, there is a clear relevance and overlap with businesses.

Running clubs and yoga classes at work won’t be the right solution for every business, but taking some steps to promote good physical health as a means of achieving good mental health is not only responsible employment, it’s good business.

 Ian Beattie is the Chief Operating Officer at Lindsays, Chairman of Scottish Athletics and a former Vice Chair of SAMH.

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