Easy steps to a healthier workplace

Walking – almost all of us can do it, and most take it for granted. It's also a key stepping stone for major corporate, social and philanthropic change, according to the Global Corporate Challenge.

The GCC is entering its 10th year of encouraging often sedentary employees of large corporations to take the stairs, park further from the office, get off the train one stop earlier, take a lunchtime stroll or hold a walking meeting.

Our studies show the average GCC participant takes 41 per cent less sick days during the event and also two months after.

The four-month program drives internal health and wellbeing benefits that the GCC says can deliver up to a sixfold return on the initial investment via increased productivity.

The Melbourne-based organisation – which kicked off in 2004 with 2226 participants – now operates in 98 countries around the world and expects this year's challenge to involve more than quarter of a million employees.

Each will be encouraged to try to tap out around 10,000 steps per day, which for most people amounts to about six kilometres. Participants in last year's challenge averaged 13,500 steps per day, the equivalent of spending nearly an hour on a cross-trainer machine.

The healthy aspects of the challenge are well documented – decreased absenteeism, greater engagement, increased productivity – but the GCC has loftier goals than simply increasing workforce health.

It has recently announced a key partnership with UNICEF, which provides humanitarian assistance to children around the world. Money donated by GCC participants will be used to help establish reliable water supplies in Third World countries, with the GCC matching all participants' donations.

Previous editions of the GCC have helped to fund measles vaccinations in Papua New Guinea, distribute water filtration kits in Honduras and support an orphanage in Uganda, and GCC chief executive Tom Sermon says the partnership with UNICEF was a natural fit. "There is no better associated brand or charity for us to be working with than one that prioritises health in so many countries around the world and has so many wonderful projects," he says.

Closer to home, good businesses are increasingly focusing on being seen as good corporate citizens.

"Nowadays when people are looking to attract great staff and retain them, they've got to be seen not just as the person who gets the job done, but how can I get the most out of this person and make sure I'm fulfilling them as an individual," Sermon says.

"When you get more active it's been scientifically proven that productivity increases significantly, absenteeism reduces. Our studies show the average GCC participant takes 41 per cent less sick days during the event and also two months after."

"You talk about the billions of dollars lost to absenteeism in industry and you've got a 41 per cent reduction when you get involved in an inexpensive program that runs over an extended period. Most industries will quote a six-to-one return on proactive interventions such as this."