Looking after the health of employees is of paramount importance to all employers, as it not only helps safeguard the company against absence and ensures that staff are capable of doing their job, but – more importantly – demonstrates a duty of care.

With heart disease causing around 155,000 deaths in the UK and an estimated 17 million worldwide each year1, it is especially important to take steps to help prevent it, where possible.

Although employers cannot be fully responsible for the health of staff, there are measures they can take inside and outside the workplace that can encourage good heart health and overall wellbeing, helping to provide the best possible foundation for employee vitality.

Spot the signs

Prevention is better than the cure, and this definitely applies to heart disease. Being able to spot problems before they develop can help to minimise problems. Some of the most common symptoms of heart disease to look out for include1:

  • chest pain or chest discomfort
  • pressure or pain in the arms, neck, jaw or stomach
  • fatigue
  • breathlessness
  • irregular heartbeat
  • dizziness
  • numbness and tingling
  • nausea
  • pale, sweaty skin
  • loss of consciousness

Healthy eating

One of the most effective ways to minimise the chances of developing heart problems is to follow a healthy diet, and there are several ways that employers can help to encourage this among staff.

Our blog provided by the British Heart Foundation details how to follow a balanced diet and ensure you are getting your five-a-day, and organisations can encourage this by providing baskets of fruit in the office that employees can eat whenever they like.

When it comes to buying treats or having company gatherings, replacing chocolate and baked goods with healthy alternatives can limit the temptation to indulge. High-fat and high-sugar foods can increase cholesterol2, which greatly increases the risk of heart disease, so when going out for meals on company lunches or nights out, try to choose restaurants with plenty of healthy options on the menu. You could also replace the unhealthy vending machines with free fruit bowls for staff, and ensure that canteens provide plenty of healthier meal and snack options.

On team nights out or special occasions, try to think of activities that do not involve drinking. Perhaps go bowling, or why not try something to incorporate team building whilst having fun by trying out a Crystal Maze themed escape game – there are plenty of venues popping up around the UK! Staying within recommended alcohol guidelines (no more than 14 units a week for men and women3) is important to maintain heart health, so avoiding lunch breaks or evenings after work at the pub with colleagues can help to prevent these guidelines being exceeded.

Stay active

Getting active is an excellent way of improving cardiovascular function, and this can also apply in the workplace. If your building has several floors, encourage staff to take the stairs where possible, rather than the lift, which will help to get their heart rate pumping. You could set up a step count challenge and provide staff with a pedometer to record their results.

Offering free or discounted gym memberships is another excellent way of encouraging employees to stay active, particularly if the gym is located nearby or even on-site. Reducing the need to travel far to the gym can be an attractive proposition to staff, who can go before or after work or even on their lunchbreak. Similarly, cycle to work schemes can help staff to save money on the cost of buying a bike while also swapping their commute for a more active one (and avoiding traffic jams). Additionally, exercise is proven to be an energy booster due to the release of endorphins, so it may even make them more productive during the day.

On company days out, taking part in activities that involve physical participation can be a healthy way of having fun and have the added bonus of encouraging team bonding. Away days at facilities such as Go Ape, cycling trips, charity hiking and walking treks are all ways of getting staff out of their chairs and doing something active.

Positive culture and perks

Providing staff benefits that encourage employees to look after their health and wellbeing demonstrates that you are a caring employer and can have a positive effect on morale.

One way of promoting good health and wellbeing among staff is by providing an employer-paid cash plan, which gives money back on a range of everyday health care expenses.

Sovereign Health Care’s Asset cash plan pays employees tax free cash back on health costs including dental treatment, eye tests, glasses, contact lenses, physiotherapy and much more. It includes personal accident cover up to £20,000 as well as a leading Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) as standard. The EAP offers confidential support, assistance and counselling to help employees deal with a range of life events, which helps your business to meet duty of care requirements. For more information, visit https://www.sovereignhealthcare.co.uk/business/

1 Institution of Occupational Safety and Health https://www.iosh.co.uk/Books-and-resources/Our-OH-toolkit/Non-work-related-conditions/Heart-disease.aspx#Stats
2 Heart UK https://heartuk.org.uk/health-and-high-cholesterol
3 Drink Aware https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/alcoholic-drinks-units/alcohol-limits-unit-guidelines/

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