Is your workplace healthy?

Posted by Dieter Wood on 13/03/2015

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Health is hot. Wherever you look, in the newspapers, on the internet, people are talking about healthy lifestyle

...and how it affects the individual, as well as business and the country’s bank balance.

With 95% of adults in the UK not meeting the minimum recommendations for physical activity, and both inactivity and sedentary behaviour independently affecting health, something needs to be done to get people moving. And where better to do it than in the workplace?

Workspace design affects behaviour and can make big differences to physical activity levels. There’s some innovative research going on about how spatial layout of office buildings influences the step count and sitting time of office workers. Space utilisation is key here, and with some clever design we can create active work environments that will get people standing and moving away from their desks more. This in turn will promote employee health and wellbeing.

Why bother?  The question should really be ‘How can we afford not to bother?’

From the employee’s perspective we’re talking about helping them to feel healthier. Physical activity reduces the likelihood of many types of illness. Not just short-term ones like coughs and colds. But long-term conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer and depression. Exercise leads to the release of endorphins making people feel happier, more energetic and less stressed. Combine this with some healthy food and proper breaks, and they will feel more positive and be able to concentrate better.  

From the employer’s perspective we’re talking about increased employee engagement and motivation that will in turn lead to increased job satisfaction and productivity. The majority of work days lost in the UK are to back and neck pain. Just by getting your employees standing and walking more you will see a reduction in absenteeism. And by investing in employee health and wellbeing you are more likely to attract and retain talent.

Design features

When designing workspaces, there are many new and exciting features that can be introduced to encourage your employees to become healthier. Some of these are simple and cheap, if not free. Others may cost a bit more, but will lead to some brilliant results. Here are four ideas to get you going:

1. Get Britain standing!

It’s not just about sport and exercise. Did you know that simply standing for two to four hours a day reduces risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression & cancers. So how do we get our employees to stand more?

Who suffers from an energy slump after lunch?  This won’t suit every type of meeting, but if it’s an informal meeting why not walk while you’re talking instead of sitting down? There will be no chance of falling asleep, you can make a decent dent in your 10,000 steps a day, you won’t need to bother booking a meeting room and your meetings will be kept shorter. There are other options too. Traditional meeting rooms are still important, but research has shown that meetings in which the chairs were removed resulted in improved levels of collaboration and creativity. So why not give some standing meeting rooms or spaces a go, attaching whiteboards or giant tablets on the wall to allow for brainstorming?

Or consider simple material changes such as introducing some standing desks in your workplace. More and more organisations are turning to these as a great way of reducing sitting time and back problems too. Users of sit-stand workstations say they are more alert, focused and positive.

2. Gamify your workplace

How about using some ‘fun theory’ to encourage your employees to be more active?

A great idea for nudging healthy behaviour is StepJockey's novel way of gamifying organisations with a stair climb challenge. The employer orders customised posters and signs that are installed on each floor by the staircase to show how many calories are burned by taking the stairs. Employees can download the free Stepjockey app to track, compare and compete. Now many UK companies have just installed their StepJockey signs. 

Another simple but effective idea is to make a hopscotch game on the floor in the breakout space, just like Airbnb have done in their eccentric and fun new SanFran offices.

Go one step further (pardon the pun) and install a piano staircase, whereby stepping on each step plays a musical note. This was first designed by Volkswagen to encourage their staff to take the stairs. When Stockholm metro station tried this out they found that 66% more people than normal took the stairs. 

3. Healthy eating away from the desk

You can’t tell your staff to eat their five a day. But as a bare minimum you could provide facilities for them to prepare and eat fresh, healthy food. Once you’ve done this, encourage them to take a break. They will feel and work so much better for it.

If you can, create a fun, colourful breakout space with fully equipped kitchen and dining areas where they can eat, relax and be sociable, so they go back to their desks after their break feeling fully refreshed and raring to go. The results are definitely positive.

4. A new take on the good old gym

Incorporate some simple gym equipment into the workspace. How about installing pullup bars from the rafters and suspension straps in the breakout space. Or gymnastics rings attached to the ceiling by the water cooler? Imagine how fit you could get just by doing 10 reps every time you go to get a drink of water.

If you’ve got the space and the budget, consider installing a full gym. A great perk for employees who will save money on gym membership. They can take a break from work meaning that they come back refreshed, alert and way more productive.

How have you adapted your workplace to encourage your staff to be healthy? Or fancy a new office 'healthy makeover' then get in touch with our experts.