Swedish innovation giving your workday an active twist
31 March 2021
Staying seated for a whole day by the office desk has proven to be associated with several health risks, and with people working from home due to the pandemic, the opportunity for movement during the day has been further limited. With a newly released report and a product line giving your workday an active twist, SCC member AJ Products is aiming to limit sedentary behaviour and put workplace wellbeing on the UK map.
SCC member AJ products is a one-stop-shop supplier of a wide-reaching range of workplace furniture, equipment and interiors for all different types of workplaces, including offices, warehouses, industrial facilities and schools. Founded in Sweden back in 1975 and with the UK and Ireland arm established in 1999, the company is today present in 19 countries worldwide. “Our primary focus is on delivering workplace solutions that improve ergonomics and workplace well-being. We want employees to be happier and healthier, and to create a more productive workforce for the business itself,” Laura Supple, Product Range Manager at AJ Products UK, explains.
Substantial costs associated with absenteeism
According to Laura, absenteeism caused by mental and physical health reasons costs businesses in the UK up to £29 bn each year, adding up to 27 million sick days in total. “From a business perspective, as well as an individual’s point of view, it is a particularly important area to start addressing, and the workplace is quite a simple place to adjust behaviour and make real change.”
Progressive approach to workplace well-being
For many years, AJ Products has been actively promoting workplace health and well-being in the UK. As part of these efforts, the company partnered up with ukactive, a not-for-profit organisation working to improve the health of people across the UK, some two years ago. “Particularly in the UK, there is not a focus yet on workplace well-being. Given our Scandinavian background, we have seen markets with a much more progressive approach to what a workplace could look like. That was the idea behind initially reaching out to them,” Laura says and explains how the partnership recently resulted in a report that digs into the problems with sedentary behaviour and indeed solutions for workplace well-being. With the pandemic forcing many to work from home, the report came to include the challenges implied by the new situation many have found themselves in.
A culture of sitting
There have been numerous studies about sedentary behaviour and the health risks it entails. The World Health Organisation did a study in 2018 looking at the fact that sedentary behaviour is associated with a number of different negative health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancers, type two diabetes, and general all-around mortality. “There is evidence to suggest that workers who spend eight hours a day sitting, are up to 60% more likely to be affected by those health conditions and consequently, die earlier than people who are more active throughout the day,” Laura says and adds: “There is a culture of sitting, not just at the office. You come home, you sit on the sofa watching TV or playing video games – we are all guilty of it all the time.”
Getting people activated at the workplace The report resulted in three key messages of what people and employers can do to decrease sedentary behaviour, the first of which is to look at workplace design. “It could be anything from providing alternative workstations, such as sit-stand desks or exercise bikes, to creating activity-based zones, group working areas, or even focus pods, so that people don’t sit at one allocated desk during the day,” Laura says and mentions how it also could involve encouraging use of the stairs instead of taking the lift or moving the coffee machine further away from the central work area. “It can be these simple things of just rearranging the layout to get people standing up and walking a little bit more.”
Changing attitudes and behaviour
The second major point is to create a plan to increase physical activity and exercise. “That could be things such as organising more bike storage for the site and building showers so that people could cycle or run in and get showered off. It could be negotiating a group rate with a local gym, or just suggesting going out for a walk at lunchtime.” Thirdly, changing the attitudes and the behaviour of the staff is equally important, as well as communicating the benefits to make sure everyone knows what is on offer and what they are allowed to do. “It’s all about creating this culture where people feel like they can take advantage of that and that people have the time for it. Also, involving the staff at the beginning of any attempt to improve workplace wellbeing makes it easier to address the real problems.”
Limited opportunity for movement
Laura explains how the working from home situation many have found themselves in is limiting the opportunity for movement during the working day. “It is not just the workstation itself, but it could be walking or cycling as part of your commute, or the fact that you normally stop at the gym on the way home or even just moving around the office. And by working from home, you have lost that.” But there are several simple things one can do to get a daily dose of exercise. “Allow yourself to take breaks to move around the house, whether that is getting out on a walk for your lunch break, or just wandering around the house – those things make a difference.”
The most important investment
In terms of a physical desk setup at home, a decent office chair is the most important investment, according to Laura. “It will make a big difference on long term. The implications for your back in particular, of sitting in a bad chair could have lifelong health consequences.” If you have to sit at your dining room table or your breakfast nook, there are some simple things that you can do off your own back. “Some people create themselves a more active workstation, even if that is makeshift, by for example piling some books on your desk and putting your laptop on top,” Laura says and adds that it is always a good idea to ask the employer about budgets and whether there is anything they can do to assess your situation or help you with.
Continue promoting workplace health
Going forward, AJ Products will be continuing to develop its product range, bringing in new small sit-stand desk designs suitable for homeworking, in sizes that will fit in a nook or corner and that can even double up as a coffee table. “We will also continue working with the people at ukactive to promote the importance of workplace health and advise people what they can do, whether that is requiring an investment or just changing the ways that they think about it.”