How to reduce workplace sitting… without spending a cent
Many otherwise responsible employers have a blind spot when it comes helping their staff avoid the known and serious health risks associated with extended periods of sitting.
And, if the topic does come up, managers’ tend focus on standing desks followed rapidly by dollar signs… and the topic ends up flung into the too hard basket.
Don’t get me wrong – standing desks are great, and no more expensive than a quality ergonomic chair, but employers can do a lot to encourage a healthier and more productive workforce without spending a cent.
Culture is key, and it starts at the top. There are some workplaces where anyone who is not sitting at their desk is assumed to be shirking. First and foremost, leaders need to make it clear that it’s not just okay to stand, to stretch and to move – it’s encouraged.
Other things leaders can do, both in terms of policy and role modelling, include:
- Walk about, show staff moving around the office and meeting face to face is valued, ask staff when they last had a movement break when you see them at their desk.
- Give people the permission to stand, at the beginning of meetings and conferences and/or Invite people attending every meeting to stand between agenda items, and/or when they speak…and/or have a walking meeting
- Encourage staff to stand when they talk on the phone, greet visitors or read documents
- Discourage staff from emailing colleagues in the same building instead of walking over to speak to them in person
- Provide the team with apps they can use to remind them to get up and move
- Get staff to suggest workplace changes that would encourage them to move more and sit less e.g. remove bins from under employees’ desks –so they can walk to fewer, more centrally located bins, or enable staff to use printers, toilets and other facilities which are not the closest to their desks
- Include local walking routes in your induction pack
- Have coffees at a café that’s not the closest choice
- Include the health risks of sedentary living as a ‘standing item’ in workplace health and safety meetings
- Educate staff that, while exercise is to be encouraged, it can’t save them from sitting related health risks – they also need to sit less and move more!
- Pledge to be a more movement-friendly workplace – and use resources which are available free of charge, such as a business case for change and workplace posters
Bluearth Foundation recently surveyed over 1000 Australians on their sitting habits and desires – and the results were eye-opening.
While almost everyone knew sitting was not good for health and 80 per cent wanted to sit less, almost half reported sitting more than eight hours a day – which is associated with a 15 per cent increase in the risk of early death. More alarmingly, 16 per cent of respondents sat for over 11 hours thereby increasing their risk of early death by up to 40 per cent, according to some estimates. Two thirds of people thought 30 minutes of activity a day was enough to a day was enough to keep you healthy, but exercise won’t save you from the harmful effects of sitting for too long.
When we sit, the body ‘shuts down’– a bit like being weightless in space – and it is thought that sitting slows the body’s metabolism, reducing our ability to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, and to burn fat. This in turn leads to a measurably higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
The good news is that there are lots of ways to move more and sit less, and that those people who actively did try to break up long periods of sitting found it left them feeling more productive, refreshed, happier and more relaxed.