Training and support about the dangers of sitting at a desk for prolonged periods of time are woefully neglected in many businesses, according to new research by office suppliers Viking and YouGov.

Roles that involve sitting at a desk for extended periods put people at a greater risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. These serious implications are either ignored or not dealt with properly by employers, according to feedback from 4,800 office workers.

Widely accepted medical research has suggested that people who spend a long period sitting at a desk have a 29% increased risk of early death, so the issue is something that warrants a serious change in attitudes among businesses.

What you can do

A shocking 36% of people surveyed don’t think their employer is doing enough to improve workplace wellbeing, with 37% of participants thinking regularly about the negative impact office work is having on their physical health.

28% of office workers who sit at a desk for two or more hours a day stated that their current employer has never spoken to them about how to alleviate the health risks of extended periods of sitting.

With such serious consequences, small business owners must do whatever they can to educate and improve the culture within their workplace around this issue.

Encourage staff to move around

Encouraging your staff to stretch their legs is the most obvious and simple advice for cutting down on prolonged sitting. A culture of ‘always being at your desk’ can be detrimental to morale and exacerbate the reported health issues that extended sitting can bring.

Encourage and reward staff for getting up from their chair and walking over to speak to different members of the office. Face-to-face contact can not only help improve mobility within the office, it can also aid communication, helping different departments build better relationships.

Be creative with meetings

Changing an informal meeting, like a brainstorm, to a location outside the office can be a novel way of encouraging staff to walk around.

Depending on where your business is located, hosting a catch up in a café or quiet pub can be a pleasant change of scenery and help your workforce enjoy some fresh air and gentle exercise. If this isn’t possible, hosting a meeting outdoors in the summer months is a handy alternative.

Install standing desks

Ernest Hemingway famously wrote standing up, and while his reasons weren’t health related, there are many health benefits to opting for a standing desk.

Adjustable standing and sitting desks could help staff lose weight. A 2012 study found that working at a standing desk burns around 20 additional calories per hour. This means employees standing for 3-4 hours a day every day will burn more than 300 extra calories over a working week.

Try hot desking

If your team uses laptops, hot desking can be an effective way of encouraging them to move around and stretch their legs. Creating a quiet space for staff to retreat to will help them change their environment and move around throughout the day. If you’re investing in new technology for your staff (or just for new starters), laptops are preferable to desktop computers as the flexibility to work in different locations will encourage movement and collaboration.

Lunchtime exercise

Arranging some gentle exercise classes for the lunch break, like a yoga class, can be a handy way of introducing extra movement into the work day. Gauge the interest within the office, then consider contacting a local trainer who can come in and help people get active once or twice a week.

If there isn’t enough interest to warrant a weekly class, try investing in a ping pong table (if there’s space in the office). Arrange occasional tournaments and encourage your staff to use the table at lunchtime ­– which shouldn’t take much effort!

Author: Joe Burrows creates content and marketing material for Viking UK, part of Office Depot. He uses a standing desk (sometimes).

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