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Colborn’s Corner: Fit for work?

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Quentin Colborn

A recent press release regarding a survey of 1,354 office workers in the UK by Peninsula, the employment law consultancy, has shown that 82 per cent of office workers believe their job limits their ability to exercise. Some might say ‘any excuse’, but is this fair? This week Quentin takes a look at the impact of work on the ability to exercise and questions the survey’s findings.


If my reading of the press release is correct, it is suggesting that businesses may find themselves at risk of breaching health and safety legislation by leaving employees unable to use a gym outside work, because they are too tired and/or they do not have sufficient time to exercise. Am I being too cynical suggesting this is stretching things a bit and is perhaps using the ‘health and safety’ mantle as a means to frighten employers?

At one level this type of assertion bothers me as it is typical of the “you can’t do it because…” mentality that sadly often afflicts some HR people. Whether it be due to employment law or health and safety reasons, there is often a barrier to action placed in the way of managers and phrased in a way that rejection of the assertion shows no understanding whatsoever for the situation.

On another level, though, it concerns me that the assumption is that using a gym is the only way to keep fit! I suspect that many others may also hold this view. I have to confess to a personal bias here; I have never used a gym and am unlikely to ever do so. But that doesn’t mean I don’t keep fit. I play badminton regularly and have an active dog who demands a daily walk.

To me, sitting in a gym ‘pumping iron’ is an activity devoid of interest when the fitness sought could be achieved in much more pleasant ways. Perhaps I am strange (I suspect many would say so!) but the gym is not for everyone.

I am fully supportive of people in general keeping themselves fit. While I don’t have empirical evidence to support me, I suspect that fitness levels have a positive effect on sickness levels as well as general personal motivation and sense of wellbeing.

Whilst I may have personal views on gyms, I think they are shared by many others. It is interesting to see the profile of gym users and the typical length of membership. It is a fairly well known fact that gym membership peaks in the New Year when people look to get rid of their Christmas excesses with a gradual decline after that. There is a high proportion of joiners who fail to use or renew their membership all of which suggests users generally do not feel their membership gives them what they were looking for.

As for the suggestion that long working hours stop employees exercising, to me this simply sounds too much like an excuse! With a few exceptions, I struggle to find many employees for who working hours are a deterrent to keeping fit.

If keeping fit is a major issue there are many easy steps office employees can take, such as cycling to work, parking further from the office and walking, avoiding the lift and using stairs and so on. To me I’m afraid it’s simply just a question of attitude; to link it to health and safety concerns is pushing the credulity a little.

Does your employer encourage you to keep fit? If so, what steps do they take? Would you use free gym membership if it were given to you? Do you think it is your employer’s role to encourage you to keep fit? Let us have your views on this.

Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant based in Essex who advises management teams on operational and strategic HR issues. Quentin can be contacted on 01376 571360 or via [email protected]

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