October 22, 2014

No Ifs, Ands or Butts: Get Your Employees Fit!

active employees

Are your employees sitting at their desks all day?

If so, chances are they’re not maximizing their productivity—and they could be racking up your health insurance costs. The American Medical Association (AMA) has officially recommended that employers not let employees sit all day.  AMA board member, Dr. Patrice Harris, said when announcing the recommendation:

Prolonged sitting, particularly in work settings, can cause health problems, and encouraging workplaces to offer employees alternatives to sitting all day will help to create a healthier workforce.

If you’re looking to build a healthier workforce (one that won’t have as many accidents and illnesses, and saves you money on health insurance and workers’ comp), consider ways to make yourself and your team more active at work.

Change Your Habits

The simplest and cheapest way to increase employee activity is to create company-wide exercise breaks. Consider having employees download online tools like:

  • Stretchclock: Reminds users at a pre-set time to stand up and go through varying one-minute stretches.
  • PC Work Break: Reminds users to take “eye breaks” and/or get up and walk, and even reports to you on whether they comply.
  • Healthier: Provides “hand-picked, office-suitable” exercises and reminds you when it’s time to take a break.

You can also encourage employees to take regular breaks to check out online yoga videos such as DoYogaWithMe and MyYogaOnline and do some advanced stretching in the office.

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to know if employees are actually taking those breaks. One way to get everyone moving is to make it a group activity. Every hour, announce a stretch break and have someone lead everyone in some simple stretches, toe touches, jumping jacks or other quick energizer for 60 seconds. This works best if you’ve got a small office with everyone in one area, but you can also make the announcement and lead the activity over the P.A. system.

One of the most productive changes you can make is to hold standing meetings. Instead of sitting around a conference table (is there any bigger energy-suck?), gather everyone in a common area to stand up for a short (15 to 30 minutes) meeting. Standing means everyone’s motivated to keep the meeting moving so they can get back to their desks.

You’ll get more done in less time—and because people are more energized, you’ll probably get better ideas out of the group, too.

To really kick it up a notch, graduate to “walking meetings”—best held outside, these should also be brief, but can be a great way to energize while brainstorming or discuss sensitive issues you don’t want others in the office to overhear.

Change the Furniture

If employees respond well to the low- or no-cost options above, it might be time to invest a little money in equipment that helps keep them moving. There are a wide range of options for standing desks, from ones you build yourself to desks that adjust from a standing to sitting position.

Unless you or your employees use laptops that you can easily move from one desk to another, an adjustable height desk is probably the most practical choice, since most people won’t want to stand all day. Want to support a small business? Check out Ergo Desktop’s adjustable desks, and the Forbes test-drive of six standing desk options (which includes an assessment of their “goofiness factor”).

You might want to test the standing option first before you consider a treadmill desk, since this can be a pricey investment. To save money, consider buying just one and letting people take turns on it using their laptops. Steelcase offers a wide range of what it calls “walkstations,” or you can support an entrepreneurial company by buying a TrekDesk treadmill desk.

Whatever option you choose to get your team moving:

Make Sure Employees Feel Comfortable with the Choice

Don’t pressure people who don’t want to participate. Some employees may feel shy about doing a “downward dog” in the office. Others may not be up to racing alongside you at a walking meeting. Match the effort to the employee’s abilities.

Provide Appropriate Accessories

For instance, people using standing desks often feel more comfortable with a small footstool or yoga block that they can put one foot up on to vary their position. (As anyone who’s worked retail knows, standing for eight straight hours a day can cause just as many health problems as sitting.)

Put Safety First

The money you save in having healthier employees could get eaten up in workers’ comp costs if someone falls off a treadmill. Make sure employees know the proper way to use the equipment, and don’t encourage an unsafe level of multi-tasking.

Active Employees Photo via Shutterstock

6 Comments ▼

Rieva Lesonsky


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a staff writer for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow her on Google+ and visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

6 Reactions

  1. Great recommendations. I’d like to add Hotseat to your list. Hotseat is a health app employers can offer employees to help them create a daily schedule of two-minute activity breaks of their choosing.

    Fran Melmed
    @femelmed || @GetHotseatApp

  2. I work at an office and I find it socially awkward to do some stretches let alone yoga at the side of my desk at regular time intervals. Not only is it an easy way to get branded as either a health freak or a yogic weirdo, you’ll find some of your office mates laughing at you. I think this will only work if it is a group effort where everyone is required to stretch and exercise.

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