All employees should have access to health promotion at work

pingpongtafel op kantoor

Many companies offer health promotion programmes to keep their employees fit: sports facilities, healthy food options, health checkups. Unfortunately, lower and higher educated employees do not make equal use of these options, according to data, studied by sociologist Anne van der Put of Utrecht University.

Together with Professor Tanja van der Lippe (one of the key figures in the Future of Work hub at Utrecht University), Professor John de Wit and Dr. Jornt Mandemakers, Van der Put studied data from the Sustainable Workforce project. This is a large European survey among thousands of employees in different countries and at different companies. "We found out that Workplace Health Promotion (WHP) can contribute to increasing health inequalities," explains Anne van der Put. “And that's a shame. Lower educated employees make less use of healthy food and sports facilities, thus they benefit less from them. The biggest challenge, therefore, lies in ensuring that all employees have access to health promotion and the possibility of using it during or through work."

Social inequality is increased and that's a pity. Stimulating the use of health promotion is the challenge.

Sociologist Van der Put is conducting PhD research into the role of the organisation in the influence of worksite health promotion on the lifestyle, health and performance of employees. Her initial findings and those of her colleagues are published in the article Worksite health promotion and social inequalities in health in the journal SSM Population Health. Employees explained whether they knew about the existence of certain health regulations at work, whether they were using them and whether they noticed any influence on their health.

vrouw rent gekleurde trap op, in sportkleding

Own initiative for better health at work

The access of the lower educated people to health promotion at work was not always there. The company where they worked did not contribute to sports subscriptions, for example. Or the employees did not have the autonomy to organise their work in such a way that they could practice yoga or fitness during a break. Lower educated employees did use health checks more than higher educated colleages, if these were offered by the company. Perhaps because it was necessary for their profession. "Sometimes surprising data came to light," says Van der Put. “People with human resources positions in the organisation would say: no, we do not have initiatives for healthier eating or exercise in this company. But data from employees from the same organisation showed otherwise. They had a fruit plate at the workplace, or took lunch walks together. Our interpretation of that data: there are 'bottom-up' initiatives for more health. It does not always have to come from management or human resources."

The influence of colleagues on your health is interesting, I want to do more research on that. You often spend more time with them, than you do with your partner.

The biggest influence on healthy behaviour at work comes from colleagues, the study shows. Do your colleagues use the offered sports facilities? Chances are you will do it too. That is something that is particularly interesting to sociologist Anne van der Put. “The current scientific literature on healthy employees is primarily medical in nature, I want to better identify the sociological characteristics. Little is known about the influence of colleagues on your health anyway. The influence of family, friends or partner has been investigated more often. While you spend so much time with your colleagues. "I see you more often than my own husband!", People sometimes joke. " A subsequent paper by Anne van der Put in her PhD research will therefore focus on the social context of the use of health promotion programmes at work.