Fresh research from the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that sedentary behavior increased for all age groups between 2001 and 2016. One of the main culprits was computer use, which also increased across all ages. Sitting too much is bad for you. That isn’t news: Research over the past few decades has repeatedly shown that negative health outcomes and shortened life expectancies afflict people who sit more than four hours per day.
Obesity. Diabetes. Heart disease. These are only three health risks that increase with inactivity. When you consider other “minor” issues, such as back pain and musculoskeletal disorders (which eat up a much higher percentage of sick days than you might imagine), productivity losses and healthcare costs can rack up quickly.
How can CEOs encourage activity without losing output or efficiency? Are there simple changes to an office setup that can help?
That should be a pressing priority, given that the absenteeism of unhealthy workers costs companies $153 billion in productivity losses over a single year. Such a number indicates that the typical sedentary workspace is bad for employees. As such, CEOs should start thinking about ways to build a little more activity into the workdays of their teams.
Resisting the cubicle’s limitations
While humans aren’t designed for sitting around all day, offices usually are — the logic, of course, being that the best way to get work done is to sit at a desk without distractions.
Reality doesn’t bear this out, however. According to one study, happier employees were up to 12% more productive than their less happy counterparts. Pretty much all research into the subject comes to the same conclusion: Active employees are happier employees and, therefore, more productive.
So what can you do to encourage and empower the workers under your direction to get out of their chairs and move?
1. Be the change
Telling your team members to move more and be healthier will only go so far. Like leading in all other areas, you have to set the example for the change you want to see across the company.
Participate in fitness challenges, mindfulness trainings, or a lunch-break walk group. Promoting work-life integration will help you draw — and retain — engaged employees who value such a positive environment, which will further inspire creativity and productivity.
2. Don’t go it alone
Changing an office culture can be slow, but it’s for everyone’s long-term benefit. You have the opportunity to improve the lives of your co-workers, yourself, and the customers you serve while simultaneously improving your business. But it won’t work if you’re the only one pushing for change.
It’s vital that employees feel invited to participate in the process. Encourage innovation from your team members, and don’t be afraid to take chances on their ideas.
Perhaps you can share an interoffice document that everyone can pour ideas into. You also could schedule a group discussion or a series of one-on-one meetings with team members to debate current challenges and possible changes. Whatever the solution, make sure it allows for easy feedback. The key is to make it clear that you’re listening and responding to what your co-workers want.
3. Mix things up
The idea of an everything-in-one-spot office space is going the way of the fax machine: Newer and better options are here. There are plenty of ways to create physical spaces that encourage movement and activity — from flexible, movable walls to sit-stand converters and standing desks.
Use the aforementioned meeting time with co-workers to debate what changes might make the most immediate difference and give it a shot. Nothing needs to be considered a permanent solution until it proves itself, so resolve to experiment with a few ideas. Pencil in an optional lunchtime yoga session or reconfigure the desks to free up walking lanes. You’re only limited by your collective imagination.
Keep cultivating that employee feedback so you know when you’ve found the right solution(s). As always, be transparent and forthright with your team about the decisions you’re making. When everyone is up-to-speed and rowing in the same direction, the sailing is much smoother.
Ultimately, movement can cure a lot of corporate grief. Is your business hampered by high turnover rates? Do you wish your charges were happier, more focused, and more productive? Are you looking for ways to appeal to brilliant Millennial and Gen Z talent? A more active workplace is one that works toward all these goals, not against them. A little change really can go a long way. Why not start now?