Are you sitting comfortably? This week’s blog explores how workplace interventions can help to improve employee activity levels, breaking up sedentary working patterns in favour of an altogether more active workplace culture. But, what are the factors which contribute to making interventions successful and why should businesses take part in supporting greater levels of activity?
In 2011, the Department of Health published the Start Active, Stay Active Report which detailed global evidence surrounding the individual lifetime health benefits of engaging in regular physical activity. Specific reductions in risk for musculoskeletal disorders, mental health conditions, chronic heart disease and type II diabetes have been associated with even small increases in physical activity. The vision supported by the document set out activity objectives for everyone, at home and in the workplace; a key to achieving this, is the support of employers across the UK where sedentary working practices are presently the norm. The overall recommendation for adults in the report is to take an active break from sitting every 30 minutes.
Sedentary behaviour is defined as a pattern of behaviours where the dominant posture is sitting or lying and overall energy expenditure is very low. These behaviours are clustered around an individual’s daily activities with work forming only part of the picture. However, working habits play an important in supporting individual lifestyle changes (Prosser, 2010).
Organisational culture plays a subtle but detectable role in driving the unspoken rules and trends of personnel engagement via the shared beliefs and values and perceptions of employees. When it comes to piloting and launching successful workplace outcomes, incorporating company culture can improve health related outcomes by up to 5%, two-and-a-half times higher than interventions which exclude this element (Terry, Seaverson, Grossmeier & Anderson, 2010). Organisations with very supportive leadership were nearly four times more likely to report marked improvements in employee health outcomes (Aldana et al, 2012).
Sit, stand or keep moving?
So, if culture can drive the success of an intervention, what kinds of interventions have been trialled and adopted successfully, and are they practical, reasonable adjustments which employers can put in place? Hadgraft et al (2016) interviewed employees across retail, IT and health industries with no interventions currently in place. The overall feedback was that business case would have to be strengthened by analysing the cost effectiveness and potential impact on productivity. But, for desk based roles, sit-stand desks are increasingly providing flexibility for employees to vary their physical work patterns whilst maintaining productivity. In an Australian study of public sector employees, introducing sit-stand desks decreased sitting time by 80mins per 8 hour working day. A the end of the trial, 84% of employees reported that they felt the organisation supported their health and the initiative was deployed across the whole organisation. In a study by Such & Mutrie (2017) they examined the impact of a sit less, walk more intervention which measured activity using pedometers. What came out of this study were specific barriers to improving workplace mobility such as heavier workload demands, increasing the need to stay in one place and working in silos, policies, rules and regulations which limited movement and encouraged more sitting.
An active future…
Clearly, economic, personnel and organisational culture factors all play dynamic roles in identifying, designing and implementing active working outcomes. Research evidence can certainly guide us in terms of best practice and success trends, but adopting an individual case by case approach to interventions appears to be key in designing interventions which work well within company cultures and gain the support of leadership and management across the business.
If you enjoyed this article, why not subscribe here to our fortnightly Business Psychology Bites newsletter, with a thoughtfully curated selection of Leadership & Management quick reads and content.
Aldana, S. G., Anderson, D. R., Adams, T. B., Whitmer, W., Ray, M., Merrill, R. M., et al. (2012). A review of the knowledge base on healthy worksite culture. J Occup Env Med. 54:414–9. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31824be25f
Department of Health & Social Care Start Active, Stay Active. (2016). Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/start-active-stay-active-a-report-on-physical-activity-from-the-four-home-countries-chief-medical-officers
Hadgraft, N. T., Brakenridge, C. L., LaMontagne, A. D., Fjeldsoe, B. S., Lynch, B. M., Dunstan, D. W., et al. (2016). Feasibility and acceptability of reducing workplace sitting time: a qualitative study with Australian office workers. BMC Public Health 16:933. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-3611-y
Prosser, L. (n.d.). Sedentary Behaviour and Obesity: Review of the Current Scientific Evidence. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/213745/dh_128225.pdf
Such, E. & Mutrie, N. (2017). Using organisational cultural theory to understand workplace interventions to reduce sedentary time. Int J Health Promot. 55:18–29. doi: 10.1080/14635240.2016.1196382
Taylor, W. C., Suminski, R. R., Das, B. M., Paxton, R. J., Craig, D. W., & Taylor, W. C. (2018). Organizational Culture and Implications for Workplace Interventions to Reduce Sitting Time Among Office-Based Workers : A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Public Health, 6(September). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2018.00263
Terry, P. E., Seaverson, E. L., Grossmeier, J. & Anderson D. R. (2008). Association between nine quality components and superior worksite health management program results. J Occup Environ Med. 50:633–41. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31817e7c1c