Get up from behind that desk

Encouraging desk-bound employees to be active, embrace wellness initiatives
By Don Buchanan
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/18/2012

Are your employees sitting for too many hours at work, whether at desks, in vehicles or other work stations? Are you wondering how to encourage them to be more physically active and less sedentary, while still getting their work done?

Given the combination of work and family demands experienced by many employees, it can be a struggle to find time to be physically active. Lack of time has been reported as the number one barrier to physical activity among Canadians, according to Christina Loitz, knowledge translation specialist at the Alberta Centre for Active Living in Edmonton.

Having a well-rounded flex-time policy can be a great tool to help employees fit physical activity into their lives, she says.

“For example, a person could take 15 extra minutes at lunch to allow for a game of squash or a run, and then make up the time by working late that day or coming in early the next day.”

Loitz suggests three more approaches to help workers overcome the lack-of-time barrier:

• Be active in multiple short bouts, spread throughout the day.

• Use active transportation to get to and from work.

• Plan physical activity into your work schedule, such as blocking time off in your calendar at work.

“An employee can start by fitting one or two 10- to 15-minute walks or stair-climbing sessions into their workday, at lunch or on scheduled breaks,” says Loitz. “Over time, the physical activity during work breaks can become a habit.”

Active transportation can include walking, cycling or other types of wheeling.

“Many people say the best part of their day is the walk or wheel to or from work, partly because they are outdoors and feel really energized from the activity,” she says.

Using public transit can also be an active mode. Employees can not only get a little exercise by walking to and from transit stops, they can boost their activity levels by getting off a few stops early to take a longer walk to work or home.

Similarly, people who drive to work can park further away from the workplace, says Loitz.

“Just by parking a kilometre or two away, it’s a great way for any employee to boost their physical activity on workdays,” she says.

Avoiding sedentary time

Being less sedentary is also an important health lesson for workers, says Loitz.

“To get the most health benefits, employees should not only participate regularly in moderate to vigorous physical activity, but also reduce the amount of time they spend sitting.”

Here are some ways employees can be less sedentary at work:

• stand up more often

• move around

• stretch

• do exercises or yoga at their work stations

• take active breaks during the workday, such as a short walk

• visit co-workers in-person, rather than sitting all day or staying in front of a computer

• call a “standing meeting” or a walking meeting.

To help employees be more physically active, here are some other strategies for employers:

• Create a policy (or employee benefit) to pay full or partial costs towards an employee’s chosen physical activity, such as a fitness club. (Or, try to arrange for discounted fees for employees at a nearby fitness club or recreation centre.)

• Consult with employees about their work stations and consider less sedentary options, such as standing work stations or sit-stand work desks.

• Investigate new ideas, such as a work treadmill station. This allows an employee to walk at slow speeds while doing simpler work tasks, such as checking email.

• Invite fitness, health or other professionals to come into the workplace to do presentations on active living topics, such as the health benefits of exercise, diabetes prevention or healthy eating.

• Host challenges, events or activities involving fun, physical activities. Aim to make each event open to all employees, at all levels of ability.

• Use internal communications tools (such as email, enews or company intranet) to deliver physical activity messages and announce activities.

• Encourage or organize a lunchtime walking group — this can help promote physical activity and develop social relationships and teamwork among employees.

• Managers can show leadership by “walking the talk.” This can involve corporate support for wellness initiatives or personal participation in company-led fitness events and activities.

Another way to help promote increased physical activity among employees is through a certified fitness practitioner, says Lindsay Wright, Edmonton-based co-ordinator of the Ever Active Workplace program run by the Be Fit for Life network in Alberta.

“A qualified practitioner can help an employer plan a thoughtful activity program customized to the workplace and different employee groups,” she says. “For instance, if a workplace does not have a dedicated fitness facility, there may be an alternative space or room that can be used for activities like lunch-hour yoga or aerobics.”

Last but not least, workplace collaborations are vital, say Wright and Loitz. They suggest leaders and employees consult and plan together about health, wellness or physical activities.

Consultations can happen by various means, such as staff meetings, a suggestion box or employee surveys. A shared approach will help to encourage buy-in among employees to support and participate in an organization’s active living or wellness measures.

Don Buchanan is communications and marketing co-ordinator at the Alberta Centre for Active Living in Edmonton. He can be reached at don.buchanan@ualberta.ca or, for more information, visit www.centre4activeliving.ca.


Get moving

Aiming to be more active?

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines offer helpful guidance for people aiming to be more active. They are based on a large body of research and recommend adults be active for at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week.

“Starting with one 10-minute bout per day, a person can gradually work up to 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or more,” says Christina Loitz, knowledge translation specialist at the Alberta Centre for Active Living.

Moderate effort is when a person’s breathing and heart rate increase, and the person feels a bit sweaty by the end of the session or activity, she says.

“Brisk walking is a good example of a moderate activity. Vigorous activities get your heart working harder, such as aerobics, jogging, cross-country skiing or skating.”

When an employee is more physically active, he may experience a variety of health-related benefits, such as:

• improved health and well-being

• increased job satisfaction

• an improved ability to cope with stress

• higher productivity and effectiveness at work

• better relations with co-workers.

“Generally, employers benefit when employees benefit from increased physical activity,” says Loitz, adding that being consistent is an important factor. “Employees are more likely to gain health benefits if they are physically active on a regular basis.”

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