Stressed and perpetually sat down: the workplace epidemic

An established leader talks through the worrying statistics about sitting down at work and tells us how to introduce healthy lifestyle habits into the workplace

A Mater Private Report has revealed that a quarter of workers spend more than six hours a day sitting down. This health and wellbeing report also found that around half of us are too tired to exercise after work and most are experiencing stress in the workplace due to feelings of burnout.

It is important for business leaders to set a good example to their employees so that they feel comfortable enough taking regular breaks throughout the day.

In light of the above, Elizabeth Walker, commercial director at Distinctly, has answered a series of questions on why it’s important to take breaks from a health, engagement and productivity perspective, how well organisations handle this currently and how businesses can best communicate to their employees that they are to actively take their breaks to avoid burnout throughout the workplace.

Why is it so important that employees take breaks?Is there any guidance on how often people should be taking a break from a computer screen or seated position?

It is imperative that employees are encouraged to take breaks – and the reasons are numerous. In short, interspersing your work with frequent breaks will improve your physical and mental health, increase productivity, prevent fatigue and increase the overall enjoyment of your work. In terms of guidance, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises that breaks should be frequent and recommends 5-10 minute breaks after 50-60 minutes continuous screen and/or keyboard work.

How well do organisations handle this currently?

I think general wellness at work is being addressed as an important issue but there needs to be more done in this area. Businesses need to act fast, as workplace stress affects productivity and health. According to HSE, over 11 million days are lost at work a year due to stress in the workplace. It is a real issue that is not going away.

How can having the right environment at work, from facilities to rest areas, help encourage people to take breaks?

Where possible, a fun and relaxing break-out area will provide an ideal environment for the team to gather and recharge. Facilities do not need to be particularly sophisticated – for example, some soft seating and tables will provide comfort and a place to eat lunch. What we find is particularly popular with our employees is a dartboard that is regularly used at lunchtime and on short breaks, as well as a PlayStation, which the team enjoy using.

What other means can companies adopt to encourage breaks, such as providing free fruit or tea/coffee facilities, or somewhere to buy/eat lunch?

We encourage our team with free fruit, free breakfast, a coffee machine and wide selection of teas. It is very important to help your employees make the right decisions regarding their health and encouraging this by providing nutritious food and a good selection of drinks will help this. Where healthy food options are not available locally, employers should definitely look to offer a suitable alternative. It’s employers’ responsibility to make it easy for employees to make good choices for their overall health and wellbeing.

How can a business best communicate that their employees are actively encouraged to take a break?

Essentially, by leading by example and continually reminding the team of its importance. In addition, you need to make sure that everyone has adequate time in their day to make these breaks realistic.

How does visibility from leadership help to change thinking about breaks? Is it important those higher up in the business are seen to take breaks themselves?

As above – with all good leadership – the senior management team must lead by example. A healthy mindset starts at the very top and is encouraged throughout the rest of the organisation.

What are the risks to those businesses which ignore this, from a health, engagement and productivity perspective? Could they see employees leave as a result of stress?

Workplace stress is a real issue and one which needs to be addressed by senior management. However, according to a recent survey by Wildgoose, 63% of managers feel they are obliged to put the needs of the organisation before those of the employee. Employers who do not acknowledge, and resolve, feelings of stress among their workforce face the risk of their employees being burnt out. This means that their employees will not be working to the best of their ability because they – physically and mentally – do not have the capacity to do so. Additionally, productivity levels will drop which means working to client deadlines and expectations can prove more challenging.

Is this likely to become a bigger issue in the future, as employers become more aware of the issue of mental health and stress at work?

I think it’s already a serious issue but will increase in importance in the near future. Employers must act fast to ensure that their team’s health and wellbeing is being adequately protected.

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