Are you genuinely helping your workforce to be more physically active, or just the select few? The Health Secretary wants to know as he rolls out the new prevention strategy

Prevention, technology, and the workforce…

These are the top 3 priorities of Matt Hancock MP, the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. He’s only been in post for 5 months, but is clearly looking to change how we approach some big health challenges in the UK — by putting technology at the heart of prevention-focussed public health.

The Minister is specifically calling out businesses as a group that have the potential to do more to achieve this vision. He says:

“The workplace is also a great setting for reaching people with messages promoting and encouraging healthy lifestyles…. Many businesses are already taking action in this space, and see the benefits of higher staff morale, and lower rates of sickness absence. In the end, a healthy workforce is a more productive one. More employers should follow suit to help improve the health of their staff and of the nation”

But what does “prevention” mean to the Minister?

“Prevention is … about ensuring people take greater responsibility for managing their own health. It’s about people choosing to look after themselves better, staying active and stopping smoking” he says

He wants to make sure people are empowered “to look after themselves”. And a key part of looking after yourself is staying physically active.

Sensible stuff, but we need to recognise the unfortunate reality: when it comes to providing physical activity for the workforce, employers face a real challenge. For the most part, physical activity offerings in the workplace haven’t really evolved beyond corporate gym memberships and haven’t embraced the digital age. Fitness trackers have been the only real new wide-spread addition, and questions remain about the benefit of these devices, at least for the masses. By themselves, fitness trackers with discounted gym memberships aren’t going to get inactive people active and deliver the workplace revolution that the Minister envisages.

What about the other six?

Not only is finding cost effective solutions a challenge for employers, an equal (if not larger) challenge is making sure the chosen solution caters for the majority of their employees, especially those that need the most help in getting active. Corporate or subsidised gym membership has been a relatively popular solution but this assumes an employer is a certain size, and fundamentally does not appeal to large swathes of the workforce.

Let’s unpack that last bit. Current industry stats show that 1 in every 7 people in the UK has a gym membership. But what about the other six people? It might be argued that “only” 1 in 7 have a gym membership because those that don’t aren’t aware of the gym offer, can’t afford or gym, or don’t have one conveniently located. But with the proliferation of low cost gyms (and the ever decreasing cost of membership), as well as the high levels of general awareness of gyms as a concept, isn’t it more likely that for a good proportion of these 6 in every 7 people, the gym just isn’t something they’re interested in? Sure, one or two of those 6 might be happy with a gym membership when proactively offered one, but a significant number will want something else, namely variety and choice of how they get physically active: playing their favourite sport, joining a group run, doing a new class, being active with the family, and more.

The reality: most physical activity offerings in the workplace currently work very well for the minority of people who really enjoy going to the gym, with the majority (who need the help most) left without any real incentive or support.

This is only going to become more pronounced as Millennials (broadly people 22–38 years old) become the predominant working demographic. Millennials covet employers that put effort into healthy places to work; they value health and wellbeing, as well as expecting modern technology to put choice and variety right at their fingertips. As a sweeping generalisation, these desires aren’t limited to Millennials — it’s the same reason why so many are inactive across all ages. They simply don’t have ease of access and choice of physical activity at their fingertips. It’s easier to watch Netflix.

Right now, traditional corporate wellness and benefit programs treat physical activity as one-size-fits-all. But when it comes to physical activity, the future lies in giving workforces the power of choice.

The option to be active in the park when it’s sunny; to quickly book the local tennis court when it’s Wimbledon season; to easily find family-friendly activities at the weekend to be active with the kids. To find activities whilst on the road, at a client’s site, or increasingly, to fit with remote working. Even if employees have a gym membership through their employer, they might still want to do these things in addition to using the gym.

Interestingly, leading health organisations such as Public Health England have already started to work in this way. For decades, these types of organisations have been connecting various demographics to local physical activity opportunities. They know that the gym won’t appeal to the majority of people. So they’ve sought different ways of working. By working with imin, they connect their audiences to all sorts of activities — from walking, to tennis to netball — in the hope of helping them find the right activity. Giving them choice. Variety. Ease of access.

Matt Hancock can be proud the public sector is leading the way in delivering his vision. But to create impact that can scale across millions of people, he is right in asking businesses to take responsibility and see where they can take simple steps to do more.

Imagine how many lives you could improve (and even extend) by making sure your entire workforce is catered for, not just those few who want to go to the gym?

Offering corporate gym memberships still serves an important purpose in getting a proportion of your workforce active. But don’t let that blind you to the technologies that are out there, at your fingertips, waiting to be unleashed to transform your entire workforce.

It’s time to truly start to do more to help your workforce to be active. You can provide choice to them on a scale never seen before — without having to switch to a new platform or benefits provider. All the ingredients are there. Talk to us to find out how to make this happen for your business.

imin is an emerging technology in the sector, connect workforces, wherever they are, to any physical activity they choose, from within any wellbeing or benefits platform. See how we can help you today.