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Save Our Staff: how to stop your office from killing employees

Forget a machine injury, a nasty fall or even being stabbed in the back by a jealous colleague, a death in the workplace is more likely to be related to a sedentary role than a malicious act.

One of the most conclusive studies into sedentary lifestyles in the workplace and at home - pooling together data collected from 16 previous investigations and involving one million people - concluded that a desk job could make you 60% more likely to die earlier. 

The study, which involved The Lancet medical journal, the Norwegian School of Sports and Cambridge University, specified that heart and artery disease, along with cancer, are the most two likely causes of death linked to an inactive existence. 

To counteract this, The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends one hour of exercise for every hour sat at a desk and this advice has been adopted by Public Health England. The exercise can be taken in one block, or broken down into chunks – whichever suits the individual’s schedule and setting.

So how can good office design help reduce the risk of dying as a result of a desk-bound job? 

Here are eight office design, space planning and workplace solutions to save our office staff:

1. Install showers in your office – a brisk walk or steady bike ride for 60 minutes are both recommended by Cambridge University. If staff have somewhere to freshen up, they’ll be more likely to cycle to work or power walk at lunch time.

2. Reposition refreshment stations – it might be convenient to have a refreshment station on each floor but one central kitchen is better for workers’ health. The study highlighted that even an occasional visit to the coffee machine or water dispenser could help reduce the harm caused by sitting.

3. Provide a place to store bikes– as well as outdoor bike stands, there are a number of wall-mounted fixings that allow bikes to be hung safely on the wall. Commuting by bike is more appealing if staff know their cycle isn’t going to be stolen while they work.

4. Create a printer/photocopier zone - lead scientist Professor Ulf Ekelund said a five-minute break at work every hour, even to go to the printer, would be beneficial and said it was in employers’ interests to facilitate culture change. By creating a central printer/photocopier zone, you will encourage staff to walk to collect print outs.

5. Invest in sit-stand desks – these allow employees to switch their working position to suit their mood, task or health. Public Health England recommends staff should use sit-stand desks to ensure they are on their feet for a minimum of two hours a day. They also found that, compared with those who sit the least, those who sit most are more than twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and they have a 13% and 17% increased risk of cancer incidence and mortality, respectively.

6. Provide break out areas away from desks – break-out areas encourage people to move around the office and stretch their legs. Set them away from desk clusters to draw people out of their seats.

7. Introduce a games zone - this is a fun way of getting people on their feet, creating a sense of wellbeing and encouraging engagement in the process. Consider a pool table, table tennis or foosball.

8. Gift your staff time – time is just as important as money. Why not create a rota that allows staff to arrive an hour later some mornings so they can fit in a gym class before they start work? Or increase lunch breaks to 90 minutes once a week so people have time to exercise, shower AND eat over lunch?

*Harry Simons is partner at MPL Interiors, a concept-to-completion office design and shop fit out company, specialising in the estate agency industry

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    Introducing games zone is great idea to enhance productivity.

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