Betsey Banker
Wellness & Ergonomics Ambassador
View from the Top

Lack of Physical Activity Can Hurt Productivity, Culture

By Miriam Bello | Fri, 06/18/2021 - 18:58

Q: Why are movement and posture important to the well-being of employees and companies?

A: Movement is one of the core tenets of health. Research has shown that movement is not just about exercise. Humans need to do more than just 30-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise during the day; we also need regular low-level physical activity, which is as simple as standing up, walking around or stretching. This low-level activity should be a large part of our overall physical activity during the day but workplaces were just not designed to accommodate that and computer work. Instead, people sometimes spend upward of eight hours a day sitting down, often with very few interruptions. This prolonged sedentary behavior, plus the potential for poor posture, is a concern because it’s linked to various metabolic diseases, musculoskeletal pain and even mental health disorders.

Q: How can offices integrate movement within their activities without reducing productivity?

A: Standing desks allow employees to incorporate healthy amounts of low-level physical activity through the ability to simply stand up. They can interrupt a long sitting period without stepping away from the computer or reducing their productivity. One of the reasons standing desks are a popular workplace solution is that they provide individual employees with relief and give employers an opportunity to improve employee health. The investment in active computer workstations allows employees to have that physical activity while they remain productive.

Q: What implications can sedentarism have on the organization’s performance?

A: Two immediate concerns are absenteeism and presenteeism. This can happen when employees are absent or disengaged from their work because of health issues caused by poor posture, bad workstations and sedentary behavior. Employees may be at work but distracted, thinking about back pain or experiencing a higher level of stress or anxiety. These mental health issues are exacerbated by sedentary behavior and can be a big distraction. The stress and anxiety could influence how people connect with their colleagues and collaborate. While employers can easily track absenteeism, it is a lot harder to measure presenteeism because it is harder to determine when people are not performing to their top potential.

On the other hand, movement is good for the body and brain, with links to happiness and productivity. Through the use of the proper furniture, employers can help protect and promote the health of their workforce, and bring relief to those already experiencing pain or discomfort from a sedentary work style. For example, in one study, 78 percent of participants suffering from chronic lower back pain reported a pain free day after using a standing desk. Better health practices can also act as retention strategies because when employees feel that their organization supports them and cares for their well-being, they are more likely to stay with a company.

Q: As working conditions continue to change between home and office spaces, how can companies provide a correct working space for their employees?

A:  Often, people do not know how to create a workspace that is truly comfortable, ergonomic and supportive. During the pandemic, employees worked from the couch, the dining room table or the kitchen counter, all of which are not designed for an eight-hour work day. As a result, many remote workers reported an increased level of pain and discomfort associated with non-adjustable furniture and sedentary behavior. This is an opportunity for the employer to provide education and the right equipment, like external monitors, monitor arms and standing desks. Employers can start navigating through this process by understanding the challenges their remote workers are facing, then taking steps to support good working postures and movement.

Photo by:   Ergotron
Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst