It’s no secret that working a desk job comes with its share of health risks. According to The Washington Post, working at a desk can result in elevated risk of heart disease, over-productive pancreas, colon cancer, a strained neck, poor circulation, degenerating abdominal, hip, and glute muscles, and softer bones (among others).
So what can you do to combat the negative health impact of sitting all day in an office setting?
Good news: there’s plenty you can do to make your workplace healthier. Whether you’re a concerned employee, or a small business owner looking to do right by your workers, these 7 steps to a healthier workplace are a great place to start.
Go Green, Literally!
While adopting environmentally friendly practices is great, that’s not what I’m talking about. Something as simple as adding the color green to your workplace (by painting walls, adding artwork or accent pieces, or adding plants with lush foliage) can encourage healthy behaviors and provide workers with feelings of tranquility.
An added bonus your workers will enjoy if accent walls in your workspace are painted green is that seeing the color green has been linked to improved creativity and innovative thinking according to Psychology Today.
And the addition of live plants to your office and workspace (beyond adding splashes of green), can help to purify the air, removing harmful VOCs and reducing the likelihood of Sick Building Syndrome. What’s more, studies have shown that plants can also increase worker productivity by up to 14% … so adding live plants is a great way to improve the health, mood, and productivity of your workers.
Promote Health Challenges
There’s nothing like a little friendly competition to build team unity, increase morale, and get people energized in the workplace. If you aren’t a manager or small business owner, taking the initiative to put together a workplace wellness program with monthly or quarterly challenges can be a great fun way to stand out and earn the respect of your boss and colleagues.
Health.gov offers 7 great ideas for wellness challenges that you can integrate into your workplace routine. These include walking challenges, weight loss challenges, and team wellness challenges like working toward a total distance walked each week or month as a team.
Implementing a health challenge can lead to healthy behaviors like walking during lunch hour or meetings, which can get colleagues talking to one another more, and build teamwork, collaboration, and encourage new ideas.
Creating a pet-friendly workplace where well-behaved dogs are welcome can be a great way to reduce employee stress and give employees something to bond over. Studies have shown that the presence of friendly animals can reduce heart rate and blood pressure. Going pet-friendly is also likely to promote activity as workers will vacate the break room and take a walking lunch or break, getting outside in the fresh air more often to move around and leave their office chairs behind.
And this fun workplace perk has the added benefit for business owners of helping to set their workplace apart and attract top talent. According to PetCo, only 8% of workplaces in the U.S. allow workers to bring pets to the office. Joining this fun and furry crowd can give your business an edge in attracting talented dog lovers.
Healthy Snacks or Lunches
If your workplace has a tendency to gobble up cake, muffins, and unhealthy snacks, take it upon yourself to organize a healthy snack schedule. If you’re the business owner, this could include providing a free salad bar once a week, or you could provide fresh fruit, granola, and low-fat yogurt Monday mornings.
If your colleagues are on board, divvy-up the responsibility and have a different person provide a healthy morning snack each day or once a week. This can be a great way to prevent overeating at lunch, give colleagues a chance to gather and touch base, and provide healthy alternatives to what’s in the vending machine.
Standing Desks, Counters, or Workstations
Sitting is the new smoking according to this October 2017 study, which found that standing for 30 minute periods throughout the day was critical to combating the negative effects of prolonged and uninterrupted sitting. The study followed nearly 8,000 adults age 45 and older, and CNN reports that sitting for extended periods of time without taking adequate breaks for movement (even if you exercise regularly outside of work) can lead to a reduced life span.
If your workplace allows it, consider switching to a standing desk. Some employers will cover the cost, or may be open to creating a counter or communal workstation where employees can leave their chairs behind and stand at a computer terminal for 20 or 30 minutes. Additionally, desk top standing desk converters like those offered by VARIDESK (I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials), are a low-cost alternative for employers looking to support their team without making the switch to electric or hand-crank standing desks.
Natural Light Matters
According to a 2014 study from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, office workers with more light exposure at the office enjoyed many benefits, including longer sleep durations, better sleep quality, and better quality of life compared to workers who did not have much exposure to natural light at work.
Being well rested at home means that you can be more productive at work, and the study found that employees with windows in the workplace received 173% more white light exposure during work hours and averaged 46 minutes more per night than their cubicle-dwelling counterparts.
An added benefit of more natural light exposure is that workers tended to be more physically active, and move more during their workday.
While not every office setting has (or provides) access to large windows, offices can make the switch to daylight bulbs (light bulbs with a light temperature above 6,000k are ideal) without spending more than they do on standard light bulbs. These full-spectrum daylight bulbs will provide workers with many of the benefits to sleep patterns, mood, and productivity offered by exposure to natural light, and can also help reduce or avoid the impact of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) as well.
Water, Water Everywhere
It may seem obvious, but employers who want to create a healthier workplace should provide access to ice, and clean purified water, making it easy for workers to drink enough water throughout the day. Drinking enough water is critical to health and wellness, and providing ice and purified water has been shown to increase the amount of water that employees drink.
An easy way for managers and employers to encourage employees to drink more water (beyond providing access to it), is to provide free drinking bottles. These can be branded with your company logo as a form of free advertising, and any extras can be gifted to clients and vendors.
A Healthier Workplace = A More Productive Workplace
Not only can providing (or working to create) a healthier workplace provide benefits to employee wellness, the 7 steps defined in this article have also been proven to boost worker mood, productivity, creativity, and can also be effective at improving teamwork and collaboration.
So whether you’re a small business owner or manager, or you’re a team member looking to build a healthy community at your office, tackle one of these 7 workplace wellness ideas today.