Time to stand up for workers' wellbeing?

We’ve all known for some time that constantly sitting down is doing our health no good at all. Yet we do more of it than we’ve ever done before, whether watching TV, in a car or on a train or at a computer.

According to Get Britain Standing, British people spend on average 8.9 hours a day sitting. And this isn’t good. Research from Public Health England shows that sitting for more than four hours a day can lead to reduced metabolic rate, disrupted blood-sugar levels, increased insulin and blood pressure levels and a whole host of other potential problems. Moreover, standing can improve breathing by allowing the chest to be fully open. This allows the diaphragm to reach full capacity, which delivers more oxygen to the body. Extra movement allows blood to circulate round the body.

That’s all well and good if you’re a PE teacher or long-distance runner but what’s the answer if you are pretty much chained to your computer?

Public Health England advises initially progressing towards at least two hours a day of standing and light activity (light walking) during working hours, eventually progressing to a total accumulation of four hours a day. It also recommends that seated work be regularly broken up with standing-based work and vice-versa. 

To this end, in Scandinavia 90 per cent of office workers have access to a sit-stand desk. It’s yet to take off with the same vigour here, though there is already a wide range of sit-stand desks on the market, allowing workers to work from different positions at will. Some even come with apps that remind you to switch positions hourly.

Read more: Will offices of the future be standing room only?

But a fully standing workplace isn’t always the answer for everyone, says Sam Sahni, head of workplace consultancy at workplace strategy, office design and fit out specialist Morgan Lovell. “Businesses in the UK are generally shifting towards providing activity-based working environments,” he says. 

“From an ergonomic point of view, these environments encourage movement to various spaces that suit different purposes, and are based on the principle that ‘your best position is your next position’.”

Sahni adds: “Given these different ways of working, applying a generic approach across the board – such as the Scandinavian suggested guidelines – may not be the most appropriate way forward for any UK organisation.”

Sahni says that for people such as PAs, administrators, designers, receptionists, and programmers, who spend a large amount of time at a desk due to the nature of their jobs, or due to their being anchored by a technological requirement, sit-stand working solutions could be beneficial.

But he says, “Our data also shows that about 40 to 50 per cent of the UK’s workforce is ‘internally mobile’. These workers are in a building but not at their desks for a couple of hours each day and their level of mobility within the working environment is already high.”

Then there are workers who are, in Morgan Lovell’s words, ‘externally mobile’. They typically use the office space to connect with their colleagues. “For them,” says Sahni, “a desk is not the most important element needed in order to get their work done.”

Sahni says he would prefer UK guidelines to “focus on variety, as well as additional design elements that promote wellbeing in the workplace. What is the point of having a sit-stand desk at work but no work-life balance? Are we suggesting that by increasing standing at work, we are enabling employee wellbeing?”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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