A recently published Drexel University study claims that employers should be held responsible for employee health issues caused by excessive sitting.
Authors Natalie Pederson, professor in Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business, and Lisa Eisenberg, alumna of the Kline School of Law, claim that the increasing use of technology in the workplace has created a work environment that significantly raises the amount of time employees spend sitting. Excessive sitting has been linked to a 50 percent increase in the risk of death from any cause and a 125 percent increase of death due to cardiovascular problems.
Many companies are adopting exercise programs or giving incentives to employees who exercise regularly. While some companies are showing initiative with regards to increasing fitness in the workplace, many others have still not recognized the dangers of high amounts of sitting.
“Companies who are adopting these methods of mobilizing their otherwise sedentary workplaces are certainly ahead of the curve,” Eisenberg said to DrexelNow.
On average, adults are recommended to get at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week in periods of at least 10 minutes at a time. This recommended physical activity can be achieved with simple activities such as walking at a fast pace, biking at a slow pace or swimming leisurely.
According to a Harvard study, sedentary work environments cause a decrease in employee health, increasing the risk for certain cancers, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. These increased risks correlate to the increased amount of time companies require employees to spend sitting in front of a computer.
Although many employees have not been successful in past lawsuits claiming employers are at fault for disease or injury resulting from a sedentary work environment, Pederson claims that employers should be forced to take responsibility for such environments by implementing exercise programs or covering medical bills.
“Forcing the employer to incorporate the full cost of employment, including the cost of injury or disease precipitated by a workplace that is designed for sitting for the majority of the day, will incentivize employers to change their workplace design as necessary in order to avoid liability,” Pederson said to DrexelNow.
Although increased employer support for exercise programs may help employee health, standing desks or a reduction in the amount of time spent sitting could also help reduce the risk of health problems.
Some countries have already started implementing policies that will help reduce the amount of sitting in a workplace. For example, Denmark has passed a law that requires employers to provide standing desks for employees if requested. The U.S. has taken a different approach, showing employers that better health amongst employees reduces health care costs incurred by the company and showing how increased health increases productivity and morale.