Why investing in employee health can be good for business
Guest Blog By Betsey Banker, Wellness Market Manager, Ergotron
It’s a widely recognised fact that many long-term health problems including a significant increase in the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, depression and muscle and joint problems are associated with sedentary work and lifestyles. Yet despite this, many employers still remain slow to make the connection between extended periods of sitting and the corresponding effect on the health and performance of the organisation.
There is good reason to be concerned about the impact of this sedentary working culture and the major implications for the health and wellness of workforces causing some, like the well-known Mayo Clinic, to proclaim that ‘sitting is the new smoking.’
Furthermore, a major Lancet study of over one million adults found that sitting for at least eight hours a day could increase the risk of premature death by up to 60 per cent. It also suggested that sedentary lifestyles now pose a greater threat to public health and cause more deaths than obesity.
According to lead scientist Professor Ulf Ekelund, from Cambridge University and the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, at least one hour of physical activity per day, for example brisk walking or bike cycling, can positively impacts one’s health. It also urged those spending hours at their desk to take a five-minute break every hour, in addition to exercise at lunchtimes or outside the work environment.
Clearly the onus is now on employers to acknowledge the role that sedentary work styles and work practices have on health, and take bold actions to protect future enterprise productivity and performance.
Productivity firmly seated
According to Public Health England, prolonged sedentary working impacts the wellbeing of employees, irrespective of their personal level of physical fitness. But it’s not just the physical health of individuals that takes a hit.
Typically it takes a worker more than 20 minutes to get back on task after a break which could add a considerable loss of workforce productivity. Absenteeism and long-term sick leave provides another looming challenge to productivity as worker health becomes compromised. According to the Minister of State for Work and Pensions, cumulatively, more than 130 million days a year are currently being lost to sickness absence in the UK.
A tick in the box for talent
Office culture is fast becoming a primary differentiator for recruitment and retention in the battle for talent. But reshaping the workplace to appeal to potential employees needs to go beyond the delivery of new tools and technologies.
Improving employee health and wellbeing by combating sedentary workstyles looks set to become a powerful workplace benefit. In February 2016 the University of Sydney released its findings from a comparative study of workers in a call centre environment: compared with those using ‘regular desks,’ participants that used sit-stand desks reported feeling more sustained energy levels throughout the workday.
Leading the way to a more productive and engaged workforce
It’s clear that those employers tackling the issue of sedentary workplace behaviours are likely to reap multiple benefits: enhanced workforce productivity, reduced absenteeism, and an environment that attracts and retains talented human capital. There are many options open to businesses wishing to begin the transformation of their culture from standing meetings to sit-stand desks. And with scientific research making a clear case, it is hoped that these solutions will spur employers to empower their staff to be more active at work, and reach their goals to increase overall wellness, performance and engagement in the workplace. Bringing benefits to both individuals and the organisation, these types of results will have far reaching impact on the health and performance of the organisation as a whole.
For employers looking for immediate change that does not require policy setting, there are several simple and inexpensive steps that can be taken which will reap immediate results. These steps mainly hinge around adopting a “movement mindset” throughout the day, i.e., short bursts of vigorous activity that do not interrupt a work day, but also reduce sedentary time. Encourage employees to::
– Walk more at work: hold a walking meeting, parking their car further away from the office, take the stairs rather than the lift, take the long route to the bathroom
– Keep movement going throughout the day by rotating postures at the office or by using a sit-stand desk. Standing is like walking: It increases energy, burns extra calories, tones muscles, improves posture, increases blood flow and ramps up metabolism.
– While computing, giving employees access to an app that tracks sitting time, or to encourage them to set a timer for every 30-45 minutes as a reminder to stand up and stretch, cclear their work area, file, etc.
– Stand up to make phone calls. This can often result in a better outcome on the call as standing can lead to better decision making in this authoritative stance!
– Collaborate more with the extended team by more face-to-face conversations and less email Consider daily activities and understand which could be completed standing up: reading reports, proofreading, catching up on email
As an HR team, there are many ways to get the culture literally ‘moving’ in a new direction, long before a sit-stand option is deployed for the workstation. Consider tall table or counters around the office where people can manage quick standing tasks easily. Or hold lunch and learn sessions to help people to understand their associated risks. By indoctrinating employees in the notion of moving more up front, a business takes a strong step towards more buy-in from employees, and potentially smoother of adoptions of workstations, when the business is ready to invest.