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Good for you, good for business

Good for you, good for business

Workers in the Middle East are increasingly likely to be fat and suffer from diabetes. But while governments are waking up to this looming health crisis, employers have a role to play too, says Katherine Azmeh.

March 14, 2010 9:52 by

“Unless we have long-term vision, unless we invest in prevention, we will soon be overwhelmed by the level of diabetes, heart disease and other non-communicable diseases,” Princess Haya explained.

There have been several government initiatives to improve the state of health in the region. For example, many Middle East countries are considering legislation to curb smoking in public places, and introduce a ban on tobacco sales to minors.

Regional policymakers seem to be getting the message, initiating research, legislation, and public education in an effort to avert a crisis.

This is good news for business, as better healthcare often brings with it a boost in employee morale, productivity in the workplace, and ultimately the bottom line of large and small business.

But businesses themselves have a responsibility in this. Aside from providing medical cover, which is obligatory in some countries, it is in the best interests of big business to promote the health of their employees in every way they can.

There are several ways in which Middle East employers can promote healthy living among their employees. These include providing subsidized gym membership, organizing healthy leisure activities, promoting healthy eating in canteens, and imposing smoking bans in offices. Some employers even provide free fruit and dietary advice, according to a report by the employment agency Manpower dated May 2007.

The Manpower report quizzed 1,800 employers in the UK on the benefits of having a healthy workforce. It found that 82 percent claimed better staff motivation, 64 percent said it increased productivity, and 56 percent believe a healthy workforce reduces absenteeism.

It is clearly in the interests of local businesses to promote healthier lifestyles. But, in an age of cutbacks and ever-tighter budgets, it may be increasingly difficult to implement such initiatives.

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