Sitting has been called the new smoking, and employers are beginning to realize that they need to take measures to address the sedentary nature of most office work.
According to health and office design professionals interviewed by Bloomberg BNA, workplaces that support physical activity throughout the workday improve employee well-being by helping to mitigate some of the serious health risks associated with sedentary office work. Moreover, they assert that a healthy office space is desirable to workers and therefore can help with recruitment and retention, as well as boosting job performance and the corporate bottom-line, and reducing health-care expenses.
Being sedentary has been linked to heart disease, cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, bad cholesterol and poor mental health. Moreover, too much time in front of a computer screen can cause vision trouble such as eye strain, fatigue and dry eyes. Slouching over a keyboard or a smartphone all day can lead to tight neck muscles and repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow and tendonitis.
LuAnn Heinen of the National Business Group on Health said addressing health hazards associated with sedentary office work requires a change in company policies and practices.
“We used to associate occupational hazards with physical jobs and white collar workers were thought to be the ones in safe jobs. However, based on what we know now, it’s turning out not to be true,” Heinen said.
Roger Sola-Solé, partner at OTJ Architects, a Washington-based architecture and interior design firm specializing in designing healthy workspaces, told Bloomberg his firm designs offices with “standing areas for [employees] to go to and collaborate.”
He went on to say that human resources plays a major role in convincing employers to consider a healthy office design and explained that simple things, such as, providing sit/stand type solutions—mechanisms that allow desks to move up and down—and making sure they are fully adjustable and ergonomic are easy fixes employers can make.
Sola-Solé also noted that the popularity of treadmill desks has increased, adding that one is usually included for public use in office spaces OTJ designs.
The deleterious health effects of sedentary office work is not the only thing employers should be concerned with. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the nation’s largest medical society, recently published an economic study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showing that companies that build a culture of health by focusing on the well-being and safety of their workforce yield greater value for their investors.
“Evidence seems to support that building cultures of health and safety provides a competitive advantage in the marketplace,” Dr. Charles M. Yarborough, who sits on the board of directors at the ACOEM, told Bloomberg BNA.
Beyond the design of a workspace, employer attitudes also influence worker health.
Heinen said she incorporates physical activity breaks into all of her meetings, adding that giving “permission” to stand is a simple technique more managers should adopt.
“Every time I’m standing in front of an audience, I give permission to people who are seated to stand. I say ‘you don’t need to stay in your seat, you’re not on an airplane, you can stand up and move,’ ” Heinen said. “Just start with giving permission,” she said. “Part of the problem is our culture makes us feel like we have to be seated.”