Jonathan Pears: Encouraging staff to walk more can boost wellbeing

Jonathan Pears

According to figures from the Association of Accounting Technicians published in September 2018, over our lifetime, we will spend 3,507 days on our careers and 14,053 hours getting to and from work. In addition, the Department for Transport’s Road investment strategy for the 2015/16-2019/20 road period report, published in 2015, states that by 2040, increases in congestion could translate to 16 hours stuck in traffic for every household, every year, resulting in UK businesses losing 28 million working days annually. When put like this, investing in walking in the workplace is a no-brainer.

Phoenix Group has five UK offices; some are city-based, some rural, some have a dozen employees, some have hundreds. We needed to deliver a strategy to support wellbeing which suited all of them.

A 2019 staff survey, which received 500 responses, highlighted that our employees want to walk more. Furthermore, 47% suggested they would walk more if they had a supportive workplace; so that is what we aimed to be.

By encouraging more walking in the working day, we believe we are starting to improve our employees’ health.

Walking is an easy, everyday act. But, it gets our hearts pumping and our blood racing, helping to reduce the risk of preventable conditions such as heart disease, type two diabetes and depression. Walking is a great opportunity to socialise with peers; whether at lunch time, during walking meetings or on the commute. In fact, 28% of our staff say that having someone to walk with would make them walk more.

More people walking means fewer cars, which reduces congestion outside our offices and improves air quality. Plus, a study published in 2005 by Jim McKenna at Leeds Metropolitan University found that regular exercise can result in an overall work performance boost of 15%. Put simply, walking is very good for business.

This year, as part of our wellbeing partnership with everyday walking charity Living Streets, we are rolling out more activities to further embed walking into our workplace culture. We want to give the 69% of our employees who say they do not have enough time to walk more the opportunity and encouragement to do just that. We will host led walks, offer walking maps and train employees to become walk champions.

Supporting local communities is also hugely important to us; that is why we are delivering another year of our pioneering Wythall Walking Friends project, where trained volunteers take older adults on a walk to help them stay active and part of their community.

We will also be supporting local schools to take part in Living Streets’ Walk to School Week and have sponsored Living Streets’ National Walking Month this May so we can help inspire people to walk more.

Jonathan Pears is group chief risk officer at Phoenix Group