Can just changing the workplace environment make a significant impact to employee activity levels? According to a study published to PLOS ONE on Oct. 2, a workplace that is ‘activity permissive’ can increase the amount of time office workers stand instead of sit, which may prompt more activity, leading to greater health benefits. Buildings considered to create an environment that encourages activity contain features such as visible, easily accessible, and visually appealing stairs, activity permissible spaces, as well as transit and bike facilities. This new study indicates improvements in activity occur even when eliminating the activity restrictive environment is the sole change.
Australian researchers from Brisbane’s University of Queensland, School of Population Health, set out to evaluate the amount of change in workplace activity levels for office based workers before and after transitioning from a conventional workplace to one that offered a more activity permissive environment. The researchers then investigated the level of impact this environmental change made to health and work-related outcomes.
The 24 office employees who completed the study, relocated from a poorly designed office space with no standing options in offices or meeting rooms, to a new activity-permissive workplace environment. The new office included: a glass enclosed staircase (with attractive views), height-adjustable workstations, standing-option meeting rooms and common areas, and an office layout that promoted walking (key destinations were on different floors). Data was collected via participant worn activPAL3 activity monitors, as well as questionnaires, blood measurement, and work (performance; job satisfaction) evaluations for a 4 month average time period both pre- and post-move, respectively.
Prior to the move to the new building, the employees spent the majority of their day (approx. 76% of an 8-hour workday) sitting, mostly in prolonged, unbroken 30 minute bouts. Those that participated in the study received no information or education regarding the potential benefits of sitting less and moving more at work or how the move to the new building could affect an impact.
The researchers observed significant increases to workplace standing time after the move (approximately 18%, which equated to just under 20 minutes) with a corresponding decrease to employee sit time. Even though increases in step time were small, there were slight decreases in body fat and body weight. Both work performance and job satisfaction improved post-move. All of the participants reported to enjoy the new workplace, and interestingly, there was an increase to observed work time of approx.30 min. per day.
In the absence of prior instruction, the researchers believe the changes observed to be primarily due to the large scale change to the worker environment. While it is probable that more substantial effects would have been achieved had the change occurred in combination with individual goal setting and education, it is interesting that mere changes to the environment elicited a significant positive health change.
So if you are in an ‘activity restrictive’ workplace and cannot convince your organization to relocate or spring for a major office overall, here are some tips to encourage a more active work environment:
1. Conduct a walkability assessment of your office and immediate surrounding areas, making it a priority to establish a safe and pleasant environment for walking.
2. Make stairwells more appealing with paint, artwork, and motivational signage.
3. Encourage brief, two - three minute employee fitness breaks in the day for walking, stretching, or stair climbing.
4. Offer free or reduced-cost pedometers to employees, with incentives for increasing steps/day; instituting group competitions will encourage employee team building as well as promote good health
5. Organize lunchtime walking, running, bicycling, or yoga groups.
6. Encourage walking meetings, and help to create a culture in which standing or even pacing is acceptable at long meetings, as opposed to sitting.
7. Encourage workstation activity: stretch breaks, standing while on the phone, or even a few desk push-ups while viewing a web conference.
While the long term health and work-related benefits requires further evaluation, the results of this study do indicate that efforts to generate positive environmental changes is worthwhile in fostering improved employee health and work performance.
Does an ‘Activity-Permissive’ Workplace Change Office Workers’ Sitting and Activity Time? Erin Gorman, Maureen C. Ashe, David W. Dunstan, Heather M. Hanson, Ken Madden, Elisabeth A. H. Winkler, Heather A. McKay, Genevieve N. Healy Research Article | published 02 Oct 2013 | PLOS ONE10.1371/journal.pone.0076723; Affiliations: University of Queensland, School of Population Health, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, David W. Dunstan, Genevieve N. Healy
Fostering a Workplace Culture of Physical Activity American Council on Exercise (ACE)