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Fitness furniture: how to get staff moving in the workplace

Paula Marshall, head of furniture sales at business solutions provider Office Depot, discusses the latest furniture trends that will encourage a workforce to get moving

Paula Marshall, head of furniture sales, Office Depot
Paula Marshall, head of furniture sales, Office Depot

Fit, healthy and happy employees have been proven to positively impact a business’s operations and bottom line. A recent report, Britain’s Healthiest Workplace (BHW), has found that the most active employees within a business take less time off work for sickness than those who smoke, have a poor diet or exercise very little. The study also found that employees who lead unhealthy lifestyles are costing British businesses one month per year in lost productivity due to time off sick or under-performance, at an estimated annual cost of £73 billion.

Whilst the benefit of having active and healthy employees is apparent, encouraging this lifestyle within the workplace can seem a tough task for employers. The sedentary nature of many job roles means that UK workers spend 75% of their day sitting down, so incorporating physical activity into the nine to five working day can be challenging.

Some high profile businesses, such as tech firm Hootsuite, are attempting to garner the benefits of a fitter workforce by installing free gyms on their premises. Others might regard such a perk as financially unviable, or at the very least imprudent, given how rarely a workplace gym might be used once the novelty has worn off.

However, there are alternative solutions, such as introducing office furniture that encourages physical activity throughout the working day, that won’t be viewed merely as a short-lived gimmick.

Sit-stand desks or platforms, like this one from Fellowes, can help employees reduce the amount of time they spend sitting down
Sit-stand desks or platforms, like this one from Fellowes, can help employees reduce the amount of time they spend sitting down

The workstation

A number of research studies link excessive time sitting to ill health, including a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. According to guidelines by Public Health England, office workers should spend two to four hours of their working day on their feet to avoid the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

Most office workers need a computer screen to do their job, and encouraging them to step away for four hours is unrealistic. But by introducing height adjustable desks that can be adjusted between sitting and standing height, workers will be able to stand for the recommended amount of time without jeopardising their workload. Standing desks have also been shown to boost energy levels, increase engagement and lessen the aches and pains that can come from sitting down for long periods.

Whilst height-adjustable desks are a clever way of encouraging staff to get up on their feet more often, managers will need to motivate employees to use them at first, before it becomes habitual. Line managers and team leaders can do this in a number of ways, from leading by example to allocating times when a whole team should work standing and rewarding those that meet standing targets.

In the boardroom

Meetings are an essential part of office life, but many involve sitting down for far too long, adding to health problems as well as causing attention levels to drop. To encourage workers to keep meetings to the recommended 30 minutes and promote physical activity, employers could swap the traditional boardroom table for standing benches or ‘poseur height’ tables.

In a similar manner to standing desks, benches and tables provide an alternative to traditional seating arrangements, helping to aid circulation and boost energy. One benefit of introducing this kind of furniture within the boardroom is that it can be incorporated smoothly, minimising disruption. A combination of high tables, stools, benches and poseur height swivel chairs encourages employees to either stand or adjust equipment to their own personal comfort as the meeting progresses.

Introducing such equipment into a meeting room will make things much easier should you subsequently need to roll it out to individual workstations. As many employees take part in meetings on a daily basis, it can be a simple and effective way to facilitate non-sedentary work without the need to prompt workers.

Breakout spaces

For informal meeting areas or breakout rooms, employers can provide exercise and stability balls to promote activity during downtime. Balancing on an exercise ball requires small, constant adjustments to postural, leg and abdominal muscles, which can improve one’s posture, minimise back pain and strengthen ab muscles through a low-key workout.

By introducing such aids in breakout areas, businesses will only need to purchase a limited number of them, giving all staff the opportunity to reap the benefits of active sitting, without breaking the bank.

Health and well-being initiatives needn’t be costly or difficult for employers to implement. By providing the furniture and means to create an active work environment, businesses can encourage behavioural changes that will lead to productivity and financial gains.

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