With many businesses returning to the office, organisations have a unique opportunity to refine their relationship with their employees, introduce a new approach and promote an active office for increased health and wellbeing.
Incorporating innovative and comprehensive workplace wellbeing programmes into company culture brings countless benefits to the business and its employees. For example, employee benefits aimed at supporting active health and wellbeing show the company’s commitment to its workforce, increasing job satisfaction and staff retention. Moreover, improving the physical workspace for greater movement and flexibility can increase engagement and productivity.
Encouraging more significant levels of physical activity in and out of the workplace benefits employees by helping to improve their fitness levels. It also has a knock-on effect on emotional wellness by boosting energy levels and mood, relieving stress, increasing self-esteem and improving memory and sleep. Interventions that can help support physical health include examples such as healthy eating options in the company canteen, group fitness challenges and active office furniture.
An active office
An active office promotes employee health and wellbeing, having short and long term benefits for both employer and staff. The active office is designed with the staff’s best interests in mind: a working environment where the furniture makes it easy to vary the way you work and encourages exercise. Movement strengthens the muscles, increases blood circulation and prevents strain injuries. By keeping your employees moving, the active office improves the wellbeing of everyone who works there throughout, and beyond, the working day.
Working out in the office
To maintain movement in muscles and joints, regular exercise is important, and it can be difficult to exercise with a sedentary job. Therefore, the correct seating can make a huge difference to wellbeing.
Active seating that activates the core boosts fitness and helps strengthen the back and torso muscles. The body is made to move and thrives when it is active. Long hours of sitting can squeeze the discs in the lumbar spine, and in the worst-case scenario it can lead to disc herniation.
Three good reasons for using an active chair:
1. When the deep muscles start working, energy levels and calorie consumption increase which is favourable for your body and your concentration.
2. When you move, it improves blood circulation and oxygenation. This in turn increases efficiency and productivity during the working period.
3. Posture improves as the pelvis becomes stronger and enables a more upright sitting position.
With a wide range of active seats available, it is easy to find a type of chair to suit the many different ways of sitting.
Balance stools are naturally unstable, which means the body needs to concentrate to sit correctly. This results in stronger muscles around the torso, just by sitting and working.
When sitting on a balancing ball, the stomach, side and back muscles are activated naturally and the torso is strengthened. A balancing ball is a good complement to a traditional office chair.
A Pilates stool is a type of balance stool with an inflated seat that resembles a Pilates ball. This Pilates functionality is particularly suited to those who work in the healthcare sector, beauty salons and such like. The chair allows easy movement and closeness to a subject at the correct height – such as when moving around a person to cut hair or apply make-up.
Saddle chairs which support the body are a more ergonomic form of seating and an alternative to a balance chair.
Three reasons to pick a saddle chair:
1. On a saddle chair, sitting in a riding position automatically gives a good posture while the shoulders, hips and knees are supported.
2. Blood circulation in the legs is improved when compared to sitting on a traditional office chair throughout the day.
3. Tension in the back, which is typically caused by incorrect sitting postures, is avoided.
Variation of posture is the key to avoiding back injuries
Sitting several hours each day has a negative impact on the body. It is best to avoid static positions and change your working position at the desk as often as possible.
A truly active seated option is the under desk cycle. When pedalling, energy levels increase and blood circulation is increased. It is an excellent way to burn calories when sat at a desk doing simple tasks or attending meetings.
An ergonomically-designed office allows a shift between sitting and standing up, and between different types of chairs. An ergonomic office chair supports and offers adjustment to suit any body shape, whereas an active seat activates muscles and naturally corrects posture.
Stand up but don’t stand still
Working at a standing desk will increase NEAT* activities. Adding a standing desk mat adds an extra level of movement. Using extra energy by moving whilst standing, it will make standing up more manageable and more comfortable, placing less strain on the body.
Active standing desk mats are designed to promote constant movement and encourage a continual shift position while standing. The best mats feature a topographic surface that stimulates blood flow to the lower limbs and prompts stretching calves and flexing of feet. This regular movement improves circulation, reduces fatigue compared to standing in one position and alleviates strain on legs, knees and back.
This small amount of movement may seem insignificant; however, it helps to boost metabolism, which makes it easier to burn calories and lose weight. Over the course of a week, standing at a desk for a few hours a day adds up to a lot of extra physical activity.
Sit-stand office furniture
Not only does active office furniture improve physical health, but it also has a knock-on effect on mood and productivity. A study of 146 NHS staff led by researchers from the Universities of Leicester and Loughborough and published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) demonstrated that sit-stand desks positively affect mental wellbeing at work. At the end of the one-year study, participants who had used a standing desk reported improved quality of life, reduced fatigue and anxiety, and better engagement with their work 1.
Height-adjustable desks allow for alternating between sitting and standing at the touch of a button. When sitting down, you need a good office chair that can be adjusted according to your height and weight and will support your arms, lower back and legs. It is also good to have an active chair that can be used at regular intervals. Sitting on a balance stool, balance ball or saddle chair will activate the back and core muscles and improve posture without the extra effort being noticed.
Hold active meetings
A height-adjustable conference table provides benefits in the meeting room as well. Research shows that we are both more creative and better at collaborating when we stand up than when we sit 2. Plus, concentration levels increase, so standing meetings tend to be shorter and more effective 3. Should the meeting last longer, lowering the table and letting the participants sit down for a while is easy.
The Workplace Environment
Good well-planned and thought-out interior design makes going to work more enjoyable, bringing an enthusiasm to the workplace. A positive working environment mirrors what the organisation and colleagues stand for, what the organisation has achieved and the direction it is heading. Surprisingly, the colours chosen for the office can affect employee wellbeing, affecting everything from mood to efficiency. Blue tones create a sense of security and harmony. This popular colour increases productivity while also promoting communication. Likewise, green, thanks to its associations with nature, is calming and can ease decision making. Green is also linked to higher levels of creativity. At the other end of the spectrum, red can make it harder to concentrate, reduce analytical thinking and increase stress.
High noise levels are among employees’ biggest complaints about their workplace. Noisy workplaces have been shown to increase stress and reduce concentration levels. Acoustic solutions such as desk screens, acoustic wall panels and ceiling hanging panels are designed to reduce overall noise levels by absorbing reverberations. Studies have shown that making specific adjustments to the acoustic conditions in open office environments to remove “conversational distractions” reduces stress by 27% (when measured in terms of the physical symptoms of stress) 4.
According to Steelcase, 40% of workers say they don’t have enough informal spaces in their workplace 5. Offering diverse work environments in the office, supporting different personality types and roles in the company, allows employees to choose their work environment based on their current tasks. An ideal activity-based workplace will be a mixture of quiet private spaces, collaborative working areas and social spaces. This innovative approach has been shown to increase workplace creativity, productivity and happiness.
Don’t stop with the office; small changes to company policy can greatly impact employee psychological wellbeing and save the organisation money by reducing sick leave and increasing productivity. This could be offering flexible hours, setting up a wellness programme, or even something as simple as encouraging staff to take a proper lunch break.
All in all, an active office that puts employees first strengthens the image of the organisation as an attractive employer, making it easier to retain talented staff and attract the best recruits in the future.
1 British Medical Journal (BMJ) (2018) Effectiveness of the Stand More AT (SMArT) Work intervention: cluster randomised controlled trial [accessed September 2019]
2 Lehman, S. (2014) “Standing meetings may improve group productivity” Reuters [online] available from: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-psychology-group-meetings-productivit-idUSKBN0EV29V20140620 [accessed March 2019]
3 Dahl, M. (2014) “Work Smarter: Meetings Are 34 Percent Shorter If You’re Standing Up” The Cut [online] available from: https://www.thecut.com/2014/05/work-smarter-for-shorter-meetings-stand-up.html [accessed March 2019]
4 Sykes, D. (2009) Productivity: How Acoustics Affect Workers’ Performance In Offices & Open Areas [accessed September 2019]
5 Steelcase (2018) HR Advocates Help Create the Right Work Space
*NEAT – Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis NEAT, describes the calories burned by the movements we make when we go about the everyday. NEAT includes the physical movement in our lives that isn’t planned exercise or sports (or sleeping, breathing, and eating).
Established in Sweden in 1975, AJ Products is a full-service supplier of workplace furniture and equipment for offices, warehouses, industrial facilities and more. Their Scandinavian heritage and design offers a modern look and their European manufacturing facilities ensure high quality.
AJ Products place ergonomics front and centre to help businesses improve employee wellbeing and productivity. They have over 15,000 products, expert knowledge, in-house design and manufacturing, and high service levels creating smart solutions for workplaces, with a minimum seven-year guarantee.