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Health at Work

16th January 2015

Concurrent with the rise of the knowledge economy has been the decline of being active at work. In many ways, the modern office encourages people to be sedentary – desks are rarely sit-stand, workers are often siloed into cubicles or clusters of desks, and managers tend see moving around as a sign of slacking off. There is now, however, a large body of evidence that suggests that such inactivity is negatively impacting employee health – new research published in the last few days suggests that inactivity ‘kills more than obesity.’

Organisations can counter the health risks of inactivity by encouraging employees to break up work with walks around the office, holding standing meetings and even just moving the waste bins a little further from where employees sit. Sit-stand desks – all the rage with technology startups in Silicon Valley – are becoming increasingly popular, not just due to their potential health benefits, but also because those who use them report higher levels of concentration, motivation and energy.

Increasing physical activity in the office is only part of the wider trend of health in the workplace. Growing interest in this area is partly being driven from the top, as large organisations with ageing workforces have realised the imperative of ensuring that staff remain productive in their later years. However, employees themselves have taken an increased interest in their own health at work. With an array of inexpensive wearable gadgets on the market already, the health conscious worker can easily monitor their posture, amount of time standing vs sitting, and the quality of their sleep. Ernst and Young have recently begun a trial of wearable wristbands with their UK staff. Equipped with the Jawbone wristband, staff can monitor their activity levels and share them with colleagues.

Technology has historically been a driver of inactivity and health problems at work – when electric typewriters superseded mechanical ones, the average weight gain in typing pools was half a stone. Now though, due to the rise of wearables and greater mobility at work, technology is empowering organisations and their staff to work healthier.

As workforces age, we can expect health to take a more prominent place in the way organisations approach workplace and technology.

This post was written by Owen King, Unwork’s workplace consultant.

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