“How can we support mental wellbeing in the workplace for a happier, healthier team?”

This question is posed by employers as they explore new ways to promote healthy working lives for staff. Physical activity is fast becoming central to that as employers find new ways to encourage and promote activities which nourish the mind, move the body, and soothe the soul.

Lockdown offered new perspectives on the working day. Flexibility around how and where we work increases the risk of sedentary behaviours including sitting at a desk for long periods. Furiously powering through a to-do list is losing momentum, in favour of a rich and productive office culture balanced with our personal lives.

In May 2022, the Office for National Statistics found home working dropped from 22% to 14%, while employees hybrid working rose from 13% to 22%. 46% of people have now returned to the office. Promoting physical activity during the working day can offer incredible benefits to both employer and employee.

National walking charity Paths for All have stepped up to the mark: they offer a free accreditation scheme designed to support and recognise employers across Scotland who encourage physical activity and active travel in the workplace. The scheme offers an opportunity to incorporate new cultures, communities and facilities to encourage regular physical activity.

Paths for All’s Walk at Work Award scheme, launched in 2018, has been awarded to over 50 Scottish workplaces of all sectors: it recognises organisations that support staff through initiatives, resources and community-building in the workplace.

Neil Burn, Human Resources Advisor at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, who were awarded their Walk at Work Award in 2022 said: “Over the years we have done a lot to support our employees maintaining a healthy lifestyle. We have changed our working times, extending flexible working, introduced standing desks, created an active club and supported charity fundraising through active challenges. Most of this was driven by our staff team. With all this in mind we wanted to recognise the work of our staff team by applying for the Walk at Work Award.”

The scheme, which is completed at a pace which suits the employer, is based on three key commitments:

A happier workplace enjoys physical activity and reduced desk time through the working day and improves staff mental wellbeing. Research indicates that Scottish employers spend over £2 billion because of poor mental health in staff, with 1 in 6 people experiencing a form of mental health illness such as depression or anxiety caused by or impacting on their work. Walking meetings, standing desks, and taking part in challenges in the workplace increases productivity, focus and mental capacity with a marked decrease in depression, anxiety and stress.

A healthier workplace recognises the benefits of regular activity throughout the day. It’s recommended by the UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines that as little as 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity per day can have a positive impact on employee health, it can improve stamina, build strength and reduce sick days. Employers can also enjoy a more cohesive and productive team, particularly when staff members get outdoors, and connect with nature during their desk breaks.

Lastly, a greener workplace can tackle its carbon footprint by reducing car journeys in favour of active everyday journeys such as walking, wheeling or cycling. Over 50% of all car journeys in Scotland are less than five kilometres, and 26% less than two kilometres. Reducing car journeys can significantly ease congestion in urban centres, lower emissions and improve air quality, safety and enhance local communities.

Sarah Turner, Workplaces Development Officer at Paths for All overseeing the Walk at Work Award says, “We’re seeing a marked increase in the number of employers take part. There’s a move towards active, sustainable, and greener workplaces – employers recognise the huge benefits that promoting physical activity can have on their employees, and in turn, throughout the organisation.

“Our team can support workplaces with tools, training, and resources on how to increase physical activity during their working day. We’d encourage interested employers to get in touch”.

To find out more about the Walk at Work Award, visit: www.pathsforall.org.uk/walk-at-work-award.