“We promote the value of making lots of small improvements to health”

Mercer, a sponsor of the Healthiest Workplace awards, is helping its employees roll back the years by improving their health age

“We promote the value of making lots of small improvements to health”
Mercer's wellbeing strategy encourages staff to be more active in their everyday lives

In brief:

  • Mercer is one of the sponsors of the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace awards, which surveys workplace wellness.
  • The organisation believes that making small improvements and sustaining them is more beneficial than short-lived, high-intensity exercise.
  • It’s helping staff to do this through a programme that includes supporting staff to reach specific health goals and instigating a 5k run, which staff are welcome to walk if they prefer.

Most companies are well aware that healthy employees make productive employees, but when you want to turn that mantra into practical policies, there’s a lot of room for interpretation. The result has been an explosion of health and wellbeing initiatives over recent years, ranging from intra-corporate competitions to achieve the most steps in a day to half marathons, gruelling Three Peaks Challenge entries and more.

But what about those employees who aren’t gym bunnies – those for whom a demanding physical challenge is simply not the spur they need to bring about smaller, more moderate gains to their overall health. These gains can be just as effective in the long run.

Rolling back the health years

This is exactly what global consultancy Mercer has been focusing on over the last two years. A founder of the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace initiative, the organisation seeks to create a comprehensive assessment of participating employees’ health by using one of the initiative’s measures. So, rather than encouraging staff to complete an Iron Man or Tough Mudder challenge, it’s measuring participating employees’ health age.  

Phillip Beecroft, UK market manager, explains that while we all have a chronological age, ie the time we’ve been alive, we also have a health age – which is the age our body most closely resembles when we take into account how we treat it. Those with an older health age than their actual age are effectively older than they should be, and should ideally do something about it.

Small changes, measurable results

“It’s well known that small changes – the sorts of things everyone can do, like walking more, eating better, being a bit more health aware – can make a big difference to people’s health age,” he explains. “The message we’re trying to promote is the value of making lots of small improvements. People don’t need to be elite athletes to improve their health age.”

Earlier this year, Mercer re-tested staff who had pledged to make gradual changes to their health back in 2014. They found that overall, employees have turned back their age clock, lowering their health age by five months since they were first tested. Although the majority of staff still have a health age higher than their chronological one, this year, the steps they’ve taken mean Mercer ranks in the top quartile of ‘Healthiest Companies’ participants.

“The top three risk factors that virtually anyone can improve are their nutrition, giving up smoking, and doing more physical activity,” observes Beecroft. “There’s growing empirical research showing that making small improvements over a long period of time is more beneficial, health-wise, than short-lived high intensity fitness work, and this is what we’re trying to encourage here.”

Mercer moves

To this end, the organisation has initiated a ‘Mercer Moves’ campaign to help staff lower their health age by gradually improving their daily activity. This includes an inaugural staff 5k run, but Beecroft points out that “We don’t care if people walk, jog, or chat their way around – the key thing is that they’ll complete the distance, and build up a large number of steps for that day/week.”

This year, Mercer will also support seven employees who have pledged to target a health goal pertinent to them such as simply getting back to health after having children or building running into their lives to combat stress and anxiety.

Mercer’s experience proves that firms don’t need to send staff to boot camps to improve their health and wellness. Small steps can still lead to big results – and they’ll engage everyone rather than a select few.

Britain’s Healthiest Workplace awards are free to enter and open to all businesses with at least 20 employees. Completed by employers and employees, it’s a workplace wellness study that aims to give employers a better understanding of the health risks affecting their employees. It also looks at how they can support their employees to be healthier and more productive, and provides recommendations for improvement. Find out more here 

Saturday 19 August 2017
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