• Tesco's employee 'health pledge' met with scepticism

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  • 10 Jan 2017
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Expert suggests 'apple a day' initiative may be misunderstood, as staff express anger on online forums

A healthcare initiative from Tesco inviting employees at its 2,600 stores to pledge to improve their fitness, sleep quality and diet has been met with staff scepticism.

The retail giant is offering shop-floor staff free fruit and vegetables, free health checks from Nuffield Health and mental health advice throughout January as part of its ‘colleague health month’.

For each employee who takes the voluntary pledge to take part, Tesco says it will donate £1 to charity.

But employees’ reactions online haven’t been entirely positive. On an unofficial online forum for Tesco staff, Very Little Helps, one staff member said the pledge makes them feel like they are being “treated like three-year-olds and being given an apple a day. Improving our health is a good thing, of course it is, but… there is nothing suitable I could say without using bad language.”

Another employee commented: “They are oblivious to the extent Tesco causes ill-health, especially stress – and, of course, stress can lead to smoking, drinking and comfort eating.”

A spokesperson for Tesco said: “We want to help all colleagues live healthier lives. The initiative will help highlight the little steps we can all take to improve health, focused around what we eat and drink, keeping fit and dealing with our busy day-to-day lives.”

Peter Blencowe, managing director at Bluecrest Wellness, said that, although Tesco’s intentions were admirable, its employees’ feedback “highlights the importance of getting the right communications strategy in place. While it’s true that there is a link between effective employee healthcare and productivity, supporting staff who wish to improve their health is something a company needs to do because it is a responsible employer – and staff communications need to reflect that.”

There’s also a risk that introducing a wellbeing scheme in January – after the Christmas rush – could be interpreted by employees as a ‘sticking plaster’ solution for health issues. But any time of year is a “good time to start a wellbeing initiative” said Blencowe, because many people begin the new year with resolutions to be healthier. “Organisations, therefore, need to have a commitment to ongoing health, and any programmes need to continue throughout the year,” he said.

Tesco’s launch of the wellbeing initiative comes alongside news that the company is set to make 1,000 redundancies in its distribution centres. The firm said the changes form part of a wider programme of transformation, which has been taking place over the last two years, which it expects to create 500 jobs.

Health at work also hit the headlines this week when prime minister Theresa May announced plans to increase support and resources for employees suffering from mental-ill health. Mental ill-health accounts for 23 per cent of NHS activity, costs the British economy £15bn per year in lost productivity and is now the leading cause of long-term sickness in the UK. 

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  • Having not worked for Tesco I am unable to comment on how well or not employees are managed or led. However, from what I have experienced over the years organisational change is rarely handled and communicated well. This in turn leading to stress and ill health of staff. Depending on what has gone on at Tesco, management's approach although well intended could be seen as a kick in the teeth and patronising; or indeed a sticking plaster to a much wider problem.