Unfortunately, these well-intentioned efforts are not seeing the engagement that employers would like. According to a survey, 28 percent of employees say their company provides gym passes, workout facilities or wellness benefits, but 63 percent of this group doesn’t take advantage of them. Clearly there’s a disconnect. The solution to fighting white-collar weight gain may be in shifting the focus from afterhours exercise incentives to on-the-clock non-exercise incentives.
The Root of the Problem
When asked what contributes to weight gain at work, sitting at a desk all day tops the list for most office workers. But a closer look at the top three reasons – sitting all day, too tired to exercise and stress eating – reveals a striking similarity. They are all linked with sedentary behaviour.
Sitting for long periods at a time drains a body’s battery. That’s why a day of sitting can leave us more tired and less likely to exercise than a day of moving around. Sitting also makes it harder to manage cortisol levels – the stress hormone – which can explain the increase in stress eating. Plus, replacing the low-level physical activity (LLPA) that our bodies need with sedentary time is potentially worse on our health than not exercising. Contrary to popular belief, exercise doesn’t counteract the harmful effects of too much sitting.
Instead of (or in addition to) offering perks like gym memberships and weight-loss competitions, employers should try prioritising initiatives that can have the same effect – to get people moving and maintaining a healthy metabolism – but without the stigma or requirement of time. Perhaps employees need an intervention to on-the-job sitting and greater incentives to non-exercise activity, or movement, throughout the day.
Enter the Standing Desk
Sit-stand desks are more than just hype. They’re effective at reducing sedentary time and adding more LLPA, also referred to as non-exercise activity, to the workday. According to Ergotron’s Workplace Movement Assessment survey, once provided with access to sit-stand workstations, nearly one-third of employees spent more than half of their workday standing, stretching or walking, and 80 percent reduced their sitting by an hour or more.
More movement can lower stress, increase productivity and heighten creativity and collaboration. It can also improve comfort, mood and employee satisfaction. Survey respondents using sit-stand workstations even report less snacking. Plus, employees have autonomy in how they engage on a daily basis, gradually changing behaviours and responding to the varying needs of their bodies each day.
The best part? Unlike underutilized gym memberships, employees actually want to work standing up. According to the 2016 JustStand® Index, 61 percent of employees would rather alternate between sitting and standing during the workday. Instead of putting so many resources into wellness programs that get ignored, try giving employees something they want that addresses the same needs, just in a different, more inclusive way.
A Domino Effect
Making changes in the office creates a domino effect. Standing during the day increases energy. More productivity plus more energy increases the odds of leaving on time with enough motivation to exercise. In the Workplace Movement Assessment, users of sit-stand were more likely to exercise on workdays than those using traditional sit-only workstations.
The goal of any wellness program is to change lifestyle behaviours. Using sit-stand desks changes how people think about movement and their awareness of inactivity. Those using sit-stand workstations report an increased desire to break up sitting time at home.
The way today’s offices are designed leaves very little opportunity or motivation for movement. However, sitting should not be considered a normal workday expectation, especially when workplaces can easily offer an alternative. Adding more movement to the workday can be a game changer, helping employees sustain a healthy metabolism and offset weight gain.
Employees want healthier workplaces. Employers want healthy employees. It’s time to make the logical connections. Give employees an option to move during the workday. Movement is linked to weight, but it’s also linked to so much more. Rather than reinforce sedentary behaviour, let your office be a beacon of movement. Create a workplace that’s dynamic and full of energy, and has a positive impact on employee health, happiness, collaboration and creativity every single day.