Sitting at your desk all day means companies are “haemorrhaging productivity” according to PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie.
He wants us to get up and move more, have walking meetings (it reminds me of that phrase used by bosses “walk with me” which also seemed controlling to me, but moving on, literally) because we like bursts of energy.
He thinks firms would benefit more by spending less time sitting in a chair and more time moving around. He wants employers to think about how to get people moving more.
They did a similar campaign two years to get people to stand up more, about which I posted. Standing up more is one thing but given our climate holding outdoor meetings could be quite a challenge.
However research shows that being sedentary is linked to all kinds of health problems: obesity, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and heart disease. So if you take your health seriously you should consider it.
I remember visiting the BASF factory in Munster a few years ago and seeing the outdoor meeting area (picture below). It seemed to work for them.
They use their free time to socialise with friends and family in contrast to people who have to rush home from work and juggle children and work.
Overall fewer older people say they are lonely compared to working age populations. Once they reach 80 years of age however then it’s a different story with third saying they are lonely, probably because they suffer ill-health and can’t get about so easily.
These figures have been published to coincide with the International Day of Older People and draws on the ONS’s well-being index.
The ONS think that the contrast between older people who are retired and people of working age may be due to the more mature outlook that comes with age.
Apparently our body clocks aren’t aligned to a 9-to-5 working day and this poses a serious threat to our performance, mood, and mental health.
Dr Paul Kelley believes that there needs to be a huge change to move work times to fit with the circadian rhythms of employees to avoid storing up health problems.
And furthermore staff don’t get back to a 0900 start until they reach 55. So “staff are usually sleep-deprived… and this is hugely damaging top the body’s emotional and performance systems”.
He doesn’t believe we can change our 24-hour rhythms and learn to get up at a certain time because our bodies are attuned to sunlight and its effect on the hypothalamus.
This is separate from the ill-effect of working long hours.
Extreme workers beware!
More recently there was inter-departmental infighting between the Department of Health and the DTI about opting out of the EU Working Time regulations (which set a maximum of 48 hours). Health had commissioned research which clearly showed that working over 50 hours a week, especially for men, led to and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
The latest news from University College, London, based on a study of over 500,000 workers from the US, Europe, and Australia, is that working more than 55 hours a week increases the risk of a heart attack by 13%.
Compared to people working a standard 40 hour week stroke risk increased by 10% if you worked up to 48 hours a week and by 27% if you worked up to 54 hours a week.
Working 55 hours or longer increased the stroke risk by a massive 33%.
Working long hours means you have less time to exercise or look after yourself, you probably eat fast food for the convenience and may drink more to help you relax.
Of course there are some extreme workers who appear to thrive on working long hours but how long can they keep it up?
A report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said employers should encourage the workforce to break up their day by getting away from their desks with standing work or breaks for at least 2 hours a day.
They suggest that we should use more “standing” desks to move away from a sedentary life-style and move towards one where we spend half the working day on our feet.
“Unlike purposeful exercises, standing is something that the vast majority of individuals can do without too much effort and it doesn’t detract from time at work“.
At present the researchers believe that office workers spend between 65% and 75% of their time in periods of prolonged sitting. In Scandinavia 90% of office workers have access to standing desks compared to 1% in Britain.
Public Health England said “simple behaviour changes to break up long periods of sitting can make a huge difference” (to health).
What are the health risks they are referring to?
- Increased risk of blood clots
- Stressed neck muscles
- Pressure on back compressing discs
- Double the risk of pulmonary embolism
- Obesity and increased risk of colon cancer
- Double risk of heart disease
- Increase in blood pressure
- Double the risk of diabetes (according to the World Health Organisation)
Simple steps to avoid these risks
- stand up to answer the phone (it will also make you sound more confident)
- take a break from your computer every 30 minutes (you can install software to help you with this)
- use the stairs not the lift
- have stand up or walking meetings (notice the buzz groups that managers hold in supermarkets)
- instead of e-mailing a colleague actually walk over to their desk and speak to them in person (practise those interpersonal skills)
The research was commissioned by a community interest company called Active Working which claimed that call centres with standing desks recorded an increase in call response rates and call quality.
I always thought call centres were the equivalent of Victorian factories and recall that office workers in those days also had standing desks. Are we turning back the clock?
A CBI spokesperson said “Businesses recognise the importance of looking after their employees’ well-being as a means of maintaining a happy, healthy and therefore productive workforce. Companies will generally take a common senses approach, and offices can be re-designed to encourage different ways of working, but ultimately firms will seek to balance the practicalities of time spent away from desks with the needs of the business“