Creating a Healthy Work Environment

Teresa Mears over at the MSN Smart Spending blog, wrote a post that ignited a lot of passion in me: Is your job damaging your health?

A few points from her post:

  • 28% of employees report that their overall health is “excellent,” down from 34% six years ago. Men’s overall health has declined more rapidly than women’s.
  • 41% of employees report experiencing three or more indicators of stress sometimes, often or very often.
  • One in three employees experiences one or more symptoms of clinical depression.
  • One in five employees has trouble falling asleep and 31% awaken too early and have trouble falling back to sleep.
  • 21% are receiving treatment for high blood pressure and 14% are being treated for high cholesterol.
  • Nearly half of U.S. employees (49%) have not engaged in regular physical exercise in the last 30 days.
  • Nearly two of three workers (62%) are overweight or obese.
  • One in four workers still smokes.

It is clear that:

  1. Mental and physical health is essential for us to be productive and creative.
  2. Healthcare costs are out of control, and must be reigned in.
  3. The average workplace environment is contributing to the opposite effect, as are other factors (economic hardship, uncertainty, an aging workforce.)

For many workers, work/life balance is broken.

It’s good business for executives to do what they can to change this. Smart companies know it an are looking at ways to fix it. Some organizations are focused on the way they structure time and how performance is measured. This focus has resulted in widespread adoption of telecommuting (working from home) and the invention ROWE (Results Oriented Work Environments). It appears, for knowledge workers, who are paid to get results, the 8-5 workday may be counter-productive (Best Buy notes that productivity is up an average 35% in departments that have switched to ROWE).

But there is more to solving the puzzle of worker health than simply restructuring time and travel. Our physical environment also needs to change. Regardless of where one works, we need a healthy place to interact with our computers and each other. And some workers need to occupy a specific space during specific hours.

Enter the Cubicle

Workers worldwide curse the cubicle and it is impugned in popular culture daily. But few of us know the history of the cubicle. Robert Propst invented the cubicle over 40 years ago. But he didn’t invent the cubicles you see today. Today’s cubicles have morphed into what Propst called something resembling “monolithic insanity.”

What Probst originally designed:

Propst figured out an office layout that would address every issue of what office workers complained about. Outside of the privacy aspect and increasing productivity, he also created ergonomically-efficient office chairs and desks that were designed to be worked on while standing up to help employees be able to change their position during the day to prevent people having to sit for too long of periods.

If anyone has any pictures of Robert Propst’s original 1960s “Action Office” design for the height adjustable workstation, I’d love to see them.

Today, we now know that Propst’s vision was right. There is increasing evidence that we need to stand the majority of our day in order to maintain good health. A 12 year study of 17,000 workers shows that sitting the majority of your day increases the chance of premature death by 50% even if you exercise regularly and maintain proper weight.

Steve Olson – Technical Manager, Ergotron, Inc. Blogging about Technology, Social Media,  Productivity, Lifehacks and anything else that’s interesting.

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