Sedentary behaviour in the workplace is leading to days off work, illness, back pain and the potential for depression.
The issue could get worse too.
Sitting in the office for lengthy periods is bad enough but at least you might have an expensive, perfectly designed office chair. With the Covid-19 pandemic leading to widespread working from home, many are working on their sofa, or at their kitchen table, or even sat on bed.
What can employers do to help out employees and, at the same time, reduce absence and increase productivity?
The extent of sedentary behaviour was laid bare by recent research by AJ Products. They found that 50% of all the time spent sitting in the UK is in the office, or while working.
They found that although many adults do undertake regular exercise, they still sit at a desk or similar for too long, they aren’t breaking up these lengthy periods of physical inactivity.
The benefits of reducing this time spent sitting, working or otherwise are well known. Research in America suggested that cutting sitting time to less than three hours per day adds to life expectancy.
In the UK, sedentary behaviour is linked to back pain and depression, costing the economy billions of pounds per year – and not to mention the strain for the individual.
The problem has been that all-too-often, sedentary behaviour goes hand-in-hand with office work.
The job seemingly requires being sat at a desk, at the computer for the bulk of the day – there might be the occasional meeting but, guess what, these are spent sat down too.
Even lunch is often taken at the desk, sat down.
So much of our working culture is caught up in being sat down, often the thinking seems to have been how to combat back pain when it happens rather than how to reduce the time sat down. The impact has been addressed, not the cause.
If 2020 has shown us anything positive it is that practices can be changed without the negative impact that might have been feared.
Working in the office rather than from one has generally been seen as preferable, fears existed that productivity would dip with home working. The global pandemic has largely changed that thinking and many employers have already said they will not be rushing employees to return to the office.
If this major working practice can change can the need to be sat for lengthy periods also be addressed and, if so, how can this happen?
The workplace culture can change – there can be an acceptance that people will move around, rather than this being an exception. Some workplaces insist employees take a screen break at least once per hour, getting up and moving around.
At home, this could coincide with necessary chores, rather than being concerned employees are stopping work to put the washing on or do the dishes, these sorts of tasks could be actively encouraged. Once an hour, get up and spend five minutes moving around – get a chore out the way if you want, or simply potter round the garden.
We can stand up more. Team catch ups could be held on the move, either in the great outdoors or at least around the house – encourage people to get on their feet for catch-ups and even meetings if possible.
Some workplaces might seek to have fun – remember the success of Joe Wicks during lockdown, could you have mini exercise sessions for anyone who wants to get involved, bolstering team unity and fitness.
Encourage people to get creative, what ideas can they come up with that help to get people on to their feet?
Workplace benefits can help to make it easier for people to stay active.
A benefit such as gym membership makes it easier for any employee to join a well-equipped gym, this in turn imparting good habits that encourage the person to stay fit.
The gym membership itself may not solve the issue of being sat down during work, but it boosts overall fitness; could it also be combined with lunch breaks; employees encouraged to use the gym during lunch – thus avoiding the dreaded sedentary eating over the desk.
The cycle to work scheme is hugely popular; this enables employees to get a superb bike as a salary sacrifice and so save a considerable amount. The process of cycling to work is then far healthier than driving or being a passenger on public transport.
A workplace benefit provider can set you up with a cycle to work scheme that requires minimal ongoing admin on your part.
Technology could also be key – the tech that enables employees to work while stood up – standing desks or at least adjustable table-top additions. Much of this should be provided by the employer, but employees will often have their own ideas as to the tech that would be of benefit; items that might be of use for work and leisure. A technology buying benefit gives everyone access to savings against a wide range of tech items.
To address health concerns, there are healthcare plans and private medical insurance – these as salary sacrifices and so effectively costing far less than would typically be the case.
The employer benefits too with many of these benefits, seeing their own National Insurance contributions fall.
A final benefit to mention here – there are many others that we could write about – is the Employee Assistance Programme. This programme is a lifeline for every employee, it is a confidential helpline resource whereby trained experts are available to help, offer advice and suggest a way forward with any issue.
Is it a specific cure for being sedentary? No. However, what it can do is help people with issues such as addiction, depression and many other factors that impact not only work, but mood in general.
The EAP can help people rediscover motivation, it can help them find solutions to issues or at least approach them with a changed mindset. This can have huge knock-on effects, including simply making people more active, more likely to get up and exercise, more likely to chat with people in the office.
There is no singular workplace benefit that will solve the UK’s tendencies towards being sedentary at work. However, many provide a small benefit on their own and, as a whole, make people that bit more active, that bit healthier, that bit more productive and motivated.
At Enjoy Benefits, we have great experience in helping companies of all sizes introduce benefits that are suitable for their workplace.
Benefits are easy to set up and ongoing administration is then run through a hub, this allowing employees to manage their own benefits while the employer can see which benefits are proving popular and what level of take-up each has had.
If you would like an obligation free chat to discuss which benefits might work for your business and your employees, please contact us by calling 0800 088 7315 or using our Contact Form.