Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Nanny goes to work
Sounds like some sort of Orwellian nightmare, doesn’t it? However, this sort of thing could be happening to you at work if the coalition government gets its way. Despite pledging to butt out of our business and roll back the nanny state, it appears that our politicians have been hijacked by the usual bunch of self-serving busybodies who infest the third sector these days.
Under the sinister sounding Health at Work Network, companies and other organisations are being urged to sign up to ‘guidelines’ to help employees get fitter. The actual words used are: ‘help employers use the workplace to improve the health of their employees’ and ‘help people at work lead healthier lifestyles’. These days the word ‘help’ is pregnant with threat and euphemism.
So, as well as managing your work, your line manager could soon be responsible for monitoring the food you eat, the alcohol you drink or even whether you smoke. These guidelines, as with all government guidelines, are there to change people’s behaviour. But if companies don’t enforce these guidelines vigorously enough, the government menacingly hints that laws could be introduced to make sure that we’re all poked and prodded into doing physical jerks and never sampling a bacon sandwich ever again.
If you think it sounds far fetched, you only have to look east, in the direction of Japan. There the government has charged companies with making sure that employees lose weight and get fit. Companies that fail to literally slim down their workforce face fines and sanctions. Presumably all employees are weighed weekly, in much the same way that a farmer might weigh his cows to gauge when they're ready for slaughter. Well, now it’s about to happen here.
So what sort of things could we expect from this nonsense? Free gyms in the workplace? Possibly... but far more likely we’ll see cheaper options such as workplace vending machines stocked with apples and mineral water rather than Cola and crisps. Expect to see limits on the amount of alcohol served at the company Christmas party or even physical fitness playing a part in your annual performance appraisal. For instance, the proposals call on companies to offer ‘responsibly-sized portions’ in works’ canteens. Only government can make the word ‘responsible’ sound sinister.
How on earth have we arrived at the situation where the government is now poking its corporate nose into the grown-up relationship between employer and employee? We already have companies laying down government inspired rules on things like jokes in the workplace or other behaviour in the office, and it’s about to get worse. Perhaps we’ll soon have a government sponsored spook in every office in much the same way that the SS had a man on every U-boat during the war.
All I can say is... thank goodness I’m freelance.