OK, you probably don’t need a scientist to tell you that the steam-out-of-your-ears commute you’ve just had to get in to work this morning was potentially bad for your health. But its short lived so surely relatively harmless? Well actually, no.
Sedentary behaviour is known to have adverse effects on cardiovascular and metabolic health. But a recent study* has also found that greater commuting distances tend to be associated with decreased cardio-respiratory fitness, increased weight, and other signs of metabolic risk. The researchers also made the point that, as swathes of us move even further away from urban centres, more of us will inevitably spend longer hours behind the wheel or packed onto buses and trains on the way to and from work.
So what’s the answer? How can we as society and as employers help safeguard our workforce from the risks? Should we be allowing staff to work more flexibly, via remote working options or staggering commutes? Is the answer more tax-friendly bike schemes, workplace gyms or other wellbeing benefits, to help us all let off steam and stay fit?
The truth is, there’s probably no one-size-fits-all response, as every organisation will have its own approach to attendance, time-keeping and flexible benefits.
The first step, particularly for those faced with managing stressed colleagues, is to acknowledge that stress and frustration doesn’t start the moment someone crosses the office reception threshold; there’s probably been at least half an hour’s build up which, day after day can have a cumulative, corrosive effect.
The second step is realising the potential of promoting wellbeing in the workplace. Health promotion sometimes gets bad PR – it’s all fluffy, worthy stuff that in a tough business world a) doesn’t really make a difference, b) doesn’t stack up as being of value when you consider all the economic and financial stresses and strains people are under at home and work right now and c) is a “nice to have” we-can’t-afford-anyway accessory.
But whether it’s educational workshops or events, one-off gimmicks (workplace pedometers anyone?) or trying to effect something more gradual and permanently life-changing, such as encouraging stair use, cycling to work or getting off a stop early, if it’s going to make people feel better about getting to, and arriving at, work, and therefore more effective once there, then it’s worth considering, even when budgets are tight.
We all need optional or enforced daily disruptions in the workplace they can help us take the edge off the vicious health circle or sedentary travel, followed by sedentary desk time, followed by sedentary travel home, topped off with a quiet night on the sofa.
And it’s not just the physical health benefits we can all benefit from; the extra mental alertness and productivity that can come with a more energetic, energised approach to the working day, can make the world of difference to how we feel about work.
For more information about workforce wellbeing, please follow the link here.
* Source: Commuting Distance, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Metabolic Risk,” as published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.