Sitting too much at work is damaging office employees’ health

Whilst countless studies have been undertaken to highlight the dangers of sitting for long periods of time at work, very little attention has been dedicated to studying prolonged standing and the serious health risks involved.

A recent study by The Institute for Work and Health has discovered that both sitting and standing for long periods of time whilst at work could be a serious health risk.

Whilst most employers and their workers assume health problems are limited to musculoskeletal issues, the study contradicts this. Two separate studies were carried out by postdoctoral fellow, Dr Aviroop Biswas and senior scientist, Dr Peter Smith. They discovered those who are seated at work for prolonged periods are placing themselves at a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, coupled with a higher chance of dying from these serious health conditions.

The chances of suffering from heart disease are 2.2 times higher for those who stand at work than those who sit. The doctors state their independent studies are not, in fact, contradictory, explaining that sitting at work instead of standing is not a better option for you nor vice versa, but that in any event, employees must be encouraged to move around more.

A further study, published in the Occupational Medicine scientific journal, highlights that exercise outside of working hours does nothing to counterbalance health issues for workers. The 343 employees involved in the study were not aware they were still at risk of life-threatening illnesses if they conducted exercise outside of work and they thought that uninterrupted sitting would not cause serious health problems if they were undertaking regular exercise alongside it.

One solution to consider is for your company’s HR and FM departments to collaborate, putting a plan in place to encourage sedentary employees to get up from their desks more and for those who stand at work to take the opportunity to sit down whenever they can. This could mean deciding when your staff take breaks and including standing and moving. If yours is a fun working environment, playing music at set times throughout the day is a way to get your staff to stand up and move around. For those with a more conservative working environment, ‘take a walk’ breaks could be introduced.

In order to interrupt your standing employees, break out areas with comfortable seating may be a beneficial option. If your standing employees are customer facing, consider introducing chairs and inform your customers of the reasons for this and the health implications involved for your standing staff. This is also a great way to raise awareness among the general public.

Your facilities management team should have more creative ideas on how to achieve a more active and healthier working environment. They may be able to introduce more innovative desk and working area designs and technologies that allow employees to work standing up in a different location within the office at certain times of the working day.

In conclusion, being sedentary in the workplace, whether standing or seated, is bad for your health. As companies introduce more flexible ways of working, we may start to see a reduction in the adverse health effects of prolonged sitting and standing in the workplace.