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Fit office, fit employees: Tips for creating a healthier workplace

 
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Do your employees spend the majority of their workdays sitting at their desks in their cubicles?

If so, they could be on their way to suffering from some serious health conditions as a result of a sedentary lifestyle. This will also have some adverse and costly consequences for your company, including increased absenteeism due to illness; higher insurance costs; and increased turnover rates.

How inactive are office workers?

In her Washington Post article titled “Health experts have figured out how much time you should sit each day,” Brigid Schulte notes that the average office worker in the U.S. sits for about 10 hours. Add to that the time spent sitting in the car or subway on the commute, sitting at lunch and dinner, and sitting in front of the television or surfing the Internet at home, and it’s easy to see how our modern lifestyle simply doesn’t encourage activity.

The detrimental health effects of a sedentary lifestyle

Failing to be sufficiently active has a number of negative effects on your health. According to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability in the article “Sedentary Lifestyle is Dangerous to Your Health,” sedentary people:

  • have the greatest risk of suffering a heart attack
  • increase their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 14 percent for every 2 hours they watch television
  • increase their risk of suffering a stroke by between 50 and 66 percent
  • are more prone to depression
  • have a compromised immune system and are more prone to illness and infection

Activity recommendations for office workers

British researchers have now come up with formal guidelines as to how much activity office workers need. In the report “The sedentary office: a growing case for change towards better health and productivity,” Buckley et al. recommend initially spending two hours a day standing or performing light activity; then working toward four hours a day. They also recommend alternating seated work with standing or moving. Plus, when standing, workers should avoid standing in one posture for extended periods of time.

Creating a more active workplace

All of this is interesting information, but the fact of the matter is that your employees need to work on their computers pretty much all of the time. So how can you reduce the amount of hours they’re sitting?

  • Establish workplace policies that encourage movement. Many employees might be cautious of getting up and moving around because they could be seen as lazy. However, if you encourage people to get up and move, maybe even by installing alerts on their computers every hour, then you can effectively change their attitude towards moving.
  • Hold standing meetings. Instead of calling everyone into the conference and waiting till they’re all seated, look for a space without chairs and with sufficient standing room to accommodate everyone. It might be a good idea to rearrange the office to create a dedicated meeting corner with a white board. And in spring and summer, you can even hold meetings outside.
  • Hold walking meetings. For smaller groups, you can easily hold a walking meeting—as long as the weather permits. Find a park or quiet area to stroll around and discuss whatever topic the meeting is about. Make sure everyone present can hear one another clearly.
  • Get sit-stand desks. There’s a wide variety of sit-stand desks available for office workers, ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars. These desks are either fully adjustable desks that can be set to sitting or standing height; small static tables that can simply be placed on top of a desk when the worker wants to stand; or hydraulic desktop solutions with sitting and standing positions.
  • Acquire treadmill desks. Though much more costly, treadmill desks offer the benefit of keeping the employee moving while working at the computer. Since it’s impractical to equip every worker with a treadmill desk, a practical solution can be to install a couple of treadmill desks that are connected to the company network so employees can log in with their own account when they want to use them.

Encouraging your employees to move more involves giving them both the permission and the opportunity to do so. And even though it’s likely to require some investment, the returns in term of reduced absenteeism, reduced insurance costs, and reduced turnover will be worthwhile.


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