Whether you work at an office, remotely, or both, challenging employees to find ways to move as they work are an excellent idea. One way to stay active as you work is by using an exercise ball; as you type away at your desk, you can consistently challenge your balance and strengthen your core muscles. Also, employee breaks should be much more frequent and timed. In this article, Fit Pros explains why sitting is the most dangerous workplace habit, and how staying in motion is the best way HR can ensure employee safety and wellness.
Life is like a constantly flowing stream. We were made to move along with it. Yet the vast flow of consumer convenience has made us stagnant and immobile. This sedentary lifestyle is further normalized when workplace requirements prompt us to stay chained at our desks. According to the 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics, among the average of civilian jobs, “workers needed to spend an average of 61.0 percent of the workday standing or walking and 39.0 percent of the workday sitting.” (1) We know that the type of job determines whether an employee will have to stand or sit for the majority of the workday. Most of the 39.0 percent of employees who sit the most work in software and corporate. Any job that sits you in front of a computer screen expects an omnipresent work ethic. Ultimately, success in this field relies on how 'online' an employee can possibly be.
However, humans are not made to be as accessible as a computer; and those who attempt to keep up with a computer will end up compromising a healthy work/life balance, especially if it dangerously impacts your physical health. For instance, an employee who experiences 'work flow' often lose track of time. You may experience 'flow' in creative pursuits such as painting, or something mentally stimulating such as Sodoku. The excitable rush of motivation pushes you to keep going until you reach some kind of resolution or accomplishment. Funnily, your best work may stem from frequent marathons of continued concentration. Unfortunately, sitting for these many hours stifles the natural flow of the circulatory system, and can potentially up your chances of developing a blood clot. Blood clots form when a person is immobile for an extended time or on bedrest. Having a blood clot can easily turn fatal if it travels to the lungs and causes a pulmonary embolism. This is yet another reason to motivate employees to stay mobile at work.
A study by The American Heart Association (AMA) further emphasizes the dangers of sitting. The average person already spends 6 to 8 hours sitting; imagine sitting at work and then coming home to sit again. Sitting all day not only contributes to obesity, it can easily accelerate the possibility of developing premature CVD (Cardiovascular Disease), diabetes, or even death. The AMA emphasizes how workplace interventions of using technology to set break reminders or installing active workstations, can help employees reduce these cardiovascular health risks. An easy and fast way for HR to start implementing these sedentary changes is to simply replace the sit-down desk with stand-up ones.
Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., who is the author of several studies on sedentary behavior and a professor at the University of Houston says: “Our bodies were built to move all day. They weren’t built to be idle and stationary with a metabolic rate similar to a person in a coma,” Hamilton said. “When we’re depriving ourselves of that kind of essential muscular activity throughout the day, very potent things happen inside our bodies. You can’t impact those same cellular processes by going to a gym and doing artificial exercises for 30 minutes.”(1) This means we cannot make up for lost time spent at the desk. Even if you exercise regularly, it cannot make up for the hours spent sitting down at your desk. Just as Fit Pros delivers fitness classes to your workplace onsite, the average employee needs to continue moving as he or she works–with more interval breaks that include standing, stretching, and walking.
One take-away HR can use to incentivize employees to take more breaks is to designate a space in the office as an "active break room." It can be stocked with a timed treadmill, multiple workout stations, or written wellness challenges of specific exercise prompts. For example, a placard can encourage 10 jumping jacks for 10 wellness points. To prove participation, employees can clock in and out of the active break room. Usually the honor system keeps employees accountable and truthful; actively doing the exercises to stay healthy is an incentive challenge all by itself.
Moreover, a reliable way to remind employees to take a break is to have them set reminders on their phone or laptop. The golden rule, according to an article by CNN.com, is to move around every 30 minutes or less. The more breaks the better to keep your heart in shape. If employees can stick to a routine of timed breaks every half hour–for at least a month–surely, the habit will stick.
Remember, adjusting to anything takes time and patience, and if employees agree to adjusting their workstations and breaks, your workplace culture will exemplify a place of productivity and wellness.
(1) Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Standing or walking versus sitting on the job in 2016 on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2017/standing-or-walking-versus-sitting-on-the-job-in-2016.htm.