Workplaces really are making us fat, sick, and unfit

After decades of complaining that office life is sending you to an early grave, unwell employees finally have some evidence to back up the claim — work really is making you sick.

A major survey has found Irish workplaces are contributing to weight gain, poor diets, a lack of fitness, and related health conditions linked due to a long-term failure to focus on their employees’ wellbeing.

Details revealed by the Nutrition and Health Foundation to coincide with government-backed plans for a workplace wellbeing day next year show that, despite the benefits of keeping employees in good shape, most firms are ignoring the approach.

According to the survey, just one in eight of the Irish workforce are currently being offered healthy food choices in their work canteens or vending machines, leaving many with little option than to snack on high-sugar and salt items over the working day.

Four out of 10 of the same employees do not consider themselves “physically active”, while even among those who are, two out of three are failing to get their recommended weekly dose of two and a half hours exercise.

The survey said one in five respondents felt the lack of workplace facilities to encourage exercise, such as shower rooms for people cycling to work, were a factor in the situation.

And while some companies may think the services are a needless drain on their resources, those behind the study have noted that health problems are a key factor in absenteeism, a problem which costs Irish firms €1.5bn a year.

“Employee wellbeing is a high priority for companies because of its positive impact on productivity and absenteeism.

“With 11m days lost through absenteeism every year at a cost of €1.5bn, improving employee wellbeing is in everyone’s best interest,” insisted business umbrella group Ibec’s chief executive, Danny McCoy, who is supporting the campaign.

Calling for the issues to be addressed before the planned workplace wellbeing day on March 27 next year, the Department of Health’s director of health and wellbeing, Kate O’Flaherty, said companies could not just ignore their responsibility to staff.

“Given how long people spend in work, it is an obvious and critically important place to promote and encourage healthier living,” Ms O’Flaherty said.

“In taking a partnership approach with different employers, employees and workplaces, we can share best practice and build a culture of workplace wellbeing, which can have real benefits for people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing,” she said.

Further details on the survey and the planned workplace wellbeing day can be found at


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