The New Key to Office Productivity? Walking

Want to boost productivity in the workplace? Employers, take note: Just getting workers to walk more can up output, not to mention make the office a healthier (and happier) environment.
The New Key to Office Productivity? Walking

When it comes to boosting energy, it doesn’t get much better than grabbing a midday workout. While fitting in a lunch break run or gym session is great, it might only take a slight boost in physical activity to up our workplace happiness — not to mention productivity. This boost in happiness isn’t just measured by how often we smile at the boss; a number of health markers ranging from blood pressure to overall stress can be improved with something as simple as fitting in a few extra steps.

Why It Matters

A 2011 report on a workplace fitness program examined 752 employees from a variety of fields in the U.K. and U.S., including human resources and food supply companies. Those employees who hit (or exceeded) 10,000 steps per day reported significant boosts in job satisfaction and productivity. (Only 18 percent of employees walked 10,000 or more steps per day before the program, and 58 percent were hitting that goal by the end.) Participants who ended the program reporting 90 percent productivity or more increased an average of 41 percent productivity over the course of the program, and employees who hit the 10,000-step goal felt more productive than those who didn’t. Those who hit the goal also reduced their systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) an average of eight percent, more than twice the reduction of those who came in under 10,000 steps. Conclusion? Walking more meant big gains for both productivity and overall health.

The research was sponsored by Global Corporate Challenge, a for-profit company that provides employers with challenges to boost employee fitness. For roughly $100 per participating employee, GCC sets up companies with pedometers, tracking software, and nutritional assessments to encourage employees to take at least 10,000 steps a day over 16 weeks.

While it’s obviously in GCC’s interest to connect workplace productivity with higher levels of physical activity, their findings contribute to already strong scientific evidence Job burnout and depression: unraveling their temporal relationship and considering the role of physical activity. Toekr, S., Biron, M. Faculty of Management, Tel Aviv University, Israel. Journal of Applied Psychology.,2012 May;97(3):699-710 Links between physical fitness and cardiovascular reactivity and recovery to psychological stressors: A meta-analysis. Forcier, K., Stroud, L.R., Papandonatos, G.D., et al. Centers for Behavioral and Preventitive Medicine, Brown Medical School, Providence, RI. Health Psychology, 2006 November;25(6):723-39. Employee self-rated productivity and objective organizational production levels: effects of worksite health interventions involving reduced work hours and physical exercise. Von Thiele Schwarz, U, Hasson, H. Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2011 Aug;53(8):838-44. But the most important conclusion from GCC’s work is also one of the most unassuming: people improved their health just by increasing their walking distance, no fancy workout regimes or gadgets required. Diet was not controlled, and while it’s impossible to rule out nutritional factors in the results, just promoting awareness of how many steps we take was likely the main factor behind the results. (Roughly half the study participants lost weight (1.3 pounds on average).

The Takeaway

Healthier employees make better employees, and more and more companies across the U.S. — and across the globe — are doing their part to make workplace health a real priority. But it doesn’t take a whole lot for employers to promote fitness at the office. Giving employees access to pedometers and other basic tracking tools lets individuals take fitness into their own hands, whether it’s grabbing some extra steps with a walking meeting or parking a little further away from the building. And while programs like GCC can help motivate with outside support and counseling, getting the office moving likely doesn’t take more than the cost of a few $15 pedometers.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between fitness and workplace productivity? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author @d_tao.

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