Winning at Workplace Wellness: What You Can Do Today
Cubicle, co-working office, individual office, stand up desk, sit down desk, or standing at a bench or machine. This is the landscape of work spaces for anyone whose work involves standing or sitting in one position to accomplish their tasks.
We have read the research supporting assertions that sedentary work or staying in one position, whether sitting or on your feet, for long periods of time takes a toll on a person’s physical and mental well-being.
Amanda Gleason, President of People First HR, works with companies to help them bring wellness programs into their culture. Trudie German, author, speaker, and coach for health and wellness initiatives provides programs and education to companies who want to create a healthier workplace for their employees.
They want to share with you the effects of a sedentary work environment and how human resources and a wellness and fitness expert can help you incorporate wellness into your workplace.
Sitting Puts Workers at Risk
We know from countless research studies that long periods of inactivity increase your chance for high blood sugar, heart disease, and stroke. When you move, your muscles use blood sugar which burns calories. Long periods of inactivity decrease your body’s ability to process blood sugars the right way. Sitting also increases pressure on your muscles and spine and decreases circulation in the legs. This may lead to musculoskeletal issues and, potentially, blood clots.
Periods of inactivity may also be bad for the brain. This “UCLA study reports that people who are more sedentary have thinning in brain regions linked to memory—and even high levels of exercise don't seem to undo the effects of sitting too much.”
Standing Desks Encourage Activity
Standing desks were developed to combat the effects of sitting . Standing actively engages your spine and muscles and therefore burns blood sugars and calories. This study suggests “standing burns 0.15 more calories per minute compared to sitting. If a 143-pound person stood for six hours a day, they burn an extra 54 calories per day.” That may not seem significant, but researchers say you engage more muscles when standing which is associated with a lower risk for stroke and heart attack. Standing at a desk may also encourage a worker to move more since they are already standing.
Stand or Sit?
While standing may burn more calories, workers may still be prone to back and joint issues if they stand or sit for too long. Why? Bad posture, a poorly designed workstation, or staying in one position for long periods without breaking or changing their movements. New (and limited) research suggests that standing for long periods may not be any better than sitting.
We are certain, however, that long periods of inactivity lead to a lowered ability to burn calories and process blood sugars all of which contribute to an elevated risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke. It may also lower your ability to concentrate, focus and generate new ideas.
How Can HR Support Wellness?
Human resources and leadership can be the catalyst for change in a work environment where workers need to be at their workstations to complete their tasks. Human Resources could initiate a wellness committee to explore ways to promote wellness in the workplace. The committee should identify a spokesperson to take the committee’s ideas to leadership for endorsement and approval. Some ideas require very little financial commitment but can reap rewards in employee engagement and presenteeism. The committee may tackle things like mapping out designated walking paths, championing healthier snacks in the breakroom, leading a steps competition, group participation in 5k races. The committee may even want to suggest a wellness program with biometric screenings, activity trackers and rewards that encourage participation.
Why Engage a Wellness/Fitness Consultant?
Having a wellness/fitness consultant can provide guidance to employees on various ways of making healthier decisions during their busy days. A wellness professional can teach them what actions to take in order increase and/or replenish their energy level. For example, at 3:00 pm when their energy level drops and they are tempted to reach for that doughnut to increase their energy, the fitness professional will teach them to have a glass of water instead as this will increase circulation in the brain and have them feeling more energetic.
Another example is that most employees are under the misconception that working continuously without a break makes them more productive, when in fact this is the opposite. A wellness professional would teach them that taking regular breaks improves mental alertness which of course increases their productivity.
You may be thinking, “why not provide a gym membership for the staff instead of implementing these strategies at work?”. Well, think about it, your employees spend most of their days at work and teaching them how to implement a healthier lifestyle while on the job increases their productivity which in turn increases the bottom line for the company.
Studies have shown that employees who participate in some sort of physical activity are happier. These employees also have better time management skills and are better equipped to manage stress. This is because exercise releases the “happy” hormone endorphins.
Bringing Wellness to Work Today
Here are few ideas you can begin using right away with your employees to encourage movement and healthy food choices at work. By beginning to incorporate small changes, you may begin to see an interest from employees for more and larger changes that ultimately result in a healthier workplace and more engaged and productive employees.
● Movement Breaks
Grab a coworker and walk the stairs, take a quick jaunt around the office, or better yet go outside and walk around the building. Taking movement breaks encourages mental clarity and physical health. Employees who take breaks to walk or do short exercises benefit from being re-focused and energized upon returning to their work tasks.
● Desk Exercises
Depending on the weather conditions, it may be more feasible to stay indoors and perform short exercises. A wellness professional could teach your staff how to incorporate their physical activity at their desk. Click here for examples of exercises that can be performed easily and safely at work in a few short minutes.
● Walking Meetings or Face-to-Face Communication
Need to generate some ideas or talk through a problem? Stop! Don’t pick up the phone! Walk to your coworker’s office and talk it through. If your coworker is unavailable, schedule a 15-minute walking meeting. A good size for a walking meeting is 2-4 people. You will be amazed about how much your brain engages when your feet are moving!
● Importance of Good Nutrition
Along with being physical active, the role of nutrition is just as imperative. Many employees are having unhealthy meals because of the convenience (drive through for donuts for breakfast) or even worse skipping meals to meet a deadline. Many are unaware of the implications such action has on their health. For example, food delivers oxygen to the brain which allows one to think clearly. A lack of food or the wrong food choice, like one high in processed sugar, can impair their judgment, which impacts their productivity. A wellness expert can teach employees the proper foods to eat and why will set them up for success. A wellness expert may also help a company choose and have healthy foods on hand for their staff that support brain health and concentration.
Health is wealth and a company who invests in the well-being of their staff is investing in the well-being of their company. If your employees are unhealthy, unhappy and unengaged it impacts the company’s bottom line. These employees are more likely to take more sick days and have lower productivity at work which significantly impacts your company’s bottom line, in a negative way. Remember, healthy employees are happy and productive employees.
Amanda Gleason is President of People First HR, LLC. Connect with her to learn how she can help you build compliant and effective human resources programs that support and grow your business and your people. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trudie German is a Certified Personal Trainer and an Expert Health and Fitness Speaker. She teaches and reminds busy professionals how to implement health and fitness in their busy schedule. She can be reached at email@example.com or www.bodyenvy.ca.