Businesses across County Durham are being urged to help ensure their employees keep fit and healthy at work.

As the UK workforce continues to age, it is more important than ever to implement changes which allow staff to improve their health and wellbeing, a report to Durham County Council’s Cabinet will outline next week.

In particular, the annual report of the Director of Public Health focuses on small to medium enterprises (SMEs) across the county and the role they can play in the health of the ‘mid-life’ population – those aged between 40 and 70 years old.

Support such as providing flexible work options or having a workplace gym membership all helps towards creating a healthy environment – allowing employees to thrive and continue to contribute to the economic prosperity of the county.

The report states that healthy behaviour can be fostered in the work place through small “nudges” such as providing healthier food and drink choices and encouraging staff to walk up the stairs rather than take the lift.

Getting people involved in physical activity at work is also highlighted as a free or low-cost way to support more active lives, such as recommending staff move away from their desks at least once per hour as well as offering initiatives such as walking or running groups.

The report also recommends that employers across the county sign up to the Better Health at Work Award, which recognises efforts to address health issues within the workplace.

The award has four levels, with appropriate criteria at each stage to build into an award portfolio which is assessed annually.

The importance of good mental health is also recognised in the report, which states that employers of all sizes should encourage staff to talk about mental health and create a culture which challenges stigma and discrimination.

With about 1 in 6 employees at any one time experiencing a common mental health problem, an ability to provide support and appropriate action such as adapting working practice is vital and all organisations are encouraged to sign the Time for Change workplace pledge to help increase understanding of mental health issues.

Cllr Lucy Hovvels, Cabinet member for adult and health services, said: “As the workforce continues to age and we are expected to work for longer before retirement, good physical and mental health in mid-life is vital both for individuals and County Durham as a whole.

“All businesses should be thinking about the steps they can take to encourage staff to take up a healthier lifestyle and ensure people continue to prosper in their roles as they get older.

“Healthy life expectancy – how long we live in good health – shows significant inequalities across County Durham and we should all think about how we can work to eradicate such differences.”