Building an Active Working Culture

Information taken from the BITC – Wellbeing – Physical Activity toolkit and Sport England Active Employee Toolkit

Ways to actively reduce prolonged sitting in the workplace include:

  • Move items like printers, bins and water coolers further from workspaces
  • Encourage employees to get up from their desks every 30 minutes for 2 minutes, or at least every hour for 2 to 4 minutes
  • Train line managers to accept that an employee can still be productive while taking breaks away from the workstation
  • Promote standing or walking meetings and provide meeting spaces that enable this behaviour
  • Provide extra-long telephone cords, cordless phones or headsets so that employees can stand or walk during phone calls
  • Organise work tasks so that employees can stand or sit while doing their work
  • Foster an organisational culture that looks favourably upon reducing sedentary behaviour or increasing physical activity
  • Encourage employees to talk to colleagues in person instead of emailing or calling
  • Senior leaders should lead by example and use stairs instead of lifts

Simple steps that will make a difference include:

  • Consider how workplace design can be improved to encourage physical activity.
  • Create accessible walkways that will make it easier for employees to move around the office when they take breaks from their desks.
  • Centralise bins and photocopiers to encourage people to get up from their workstations
  • Discourage a workplace culture where line managers consider time spent away from desks, screens and phones as unproductive Encourage people to use the stairs instead of lifts where possible.
  • Ensure stairs are signposted and easily accessible. Make stairwells inviting (e.g. well-maintained with good lighting). Stair climbing is a unique form of exercise that can have a powerful and positive impact on your health over time.
  • Promote walk to work and cycle schemes, and leverage financial incentives. For example, Cyclescheme enables your employees to get bikes and accessories tax-free, saving on average about half the cost. It’s free to join, and easy to administer online
  • Look at how you can provide changing facilities, with showers and lockers. Secure storage for bikes and an area to dry wet clothes can have a big impact. Consider pooling facilities with other local employers
  • Lunchtime walking clubs have proved popular with many organisations. Paths for All has created a useful resource to promote workplace walking clubs
  • Make sure that initiatives also provide for employees with physical disabilities
  • Screen breaks encourage employees to walk away from their workstations. Frequent short breaks are better than infrequent long ones. The Health and Safety Executive recommends 5 to 10 minute breaks every hour, rather than 20 minutes every 2 hours. Ideally, employees should have some choice about when to take breaks
  • Consider opportunities for regular strength and stretching exercises, yoga or pilates
  • Take full advantage of any outdoor areas. Sometimes these are out of bounds for security reasons. Consider what adjustments can be made to improve access
  • Use internal communications channels, such as your intranet or staff magazines, to promote schemes and celebrate success
  • Give permission – employees are more likely to take time to move if they feel genuinely encouraged to, so let them know you actively support this using some of the resources in this toolkit.
  • Be a role model – normalise active working by showing your teams this is something that senior leaders within your organisation genuinely embrace and practise themselves.
  • Offer flexible working hours – allowing staff to flex their hours to build in activity before, after or during the day can make a real difference, especially during the darker winter months
  • Involve and empower your employees – ask your people what they want and need through a survey or informal conversation. Find out what their barriers are and what would help. You may even consider training staff members as Physical Activity Champions. This can provide a valuable development opportunity for the individual and generate a sustainable model of peer-to-peer support and employee-driven activity.