Wellbeing in the workplace: taking a stand

Written by
Carrie Schmitz

16 Jun 2016

16 Jun 2016 • by Carrie Schmitz

With the majority of employees now in “knowledge worker” industries as opposed to more mobile roles, most of us are guilty of spending too much time sat at a desk, in front of a computer each day.  As a result we are becoming less healthy from something as seemingly benign as – doing nothing at all. The health risks, known as “sitting disease”, have been positively linked to a higher incidence of Type 2 Diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, cancer and even premature mortality.

So what can we do?

Firstly, we need to get the facts straight. To mitigate the risks of sitting disease, we need to understand why it’s a problem in the modern workplace. These days, we are sedentary at times when our ancestors would have been engaged in low-level energy activities, and despite the massive changes in our work environment, our health needs are still the same.

To compensate for our inactivity, health experts have recommended that we all take at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. However, our bodies actually need two types of physical activity: low level, or “non-exercise” activity and moderate to vigorous physical activity, commonly known as “exercise”.

The simplest way to increase low level activity is to reduce your sitting time and stand up.  For most of us, this is breaking the habit of a lifetime as sitting is so engrained in all aspects of our lives. Just like a cup of tea first thing in the morning, we come to work, put the kettle on, sit at our desks, go home and hardly move. Once you get over the initial novelty of standing in a sea of sitters, it becomes part of your daily routine, and like sitting, you don’t even think about it.

Wellbeing experts advise that when you start to add standing into your working day, aim to start in small regular intervals, rather than forcing yourself to stand all day for the first day. The aim should be to get to the point where you can spend half of your working day standing within four weeks.This can be accomplished with a gradually increasing schedule of standing from 10 minutes per hour in Week 1, to 20 minutes each hour in Week 2 and finally 30 minutes per hour by Week 3. Research shows that even small amounts of low-level activity can have a big impact on health and performance.

Along with the added health benefits of standing at work, there is a strong link between productivity and being more mobile. Studies show that there is at least an 18% increase in productivity with investment in ergonomic furniture. Productivity not only benefits employers, but employees too as more tasks are completed to a better quality within the working day, reducing workplace stress.

In today’s knowledge economy, employers are starting to wake up to the requirements of healthier, happier employees. A forward thinking business needs to look after and encourage its staff. If there is a tendency towards reverting to a sedentary work style, using tools like the alerts on the Apple Watch, software for your computer, or even enlisting the support of those around you, will help maintain the healthy habits throughout the day.