Do not take this sitting down!

CLO December 28, 2012

How far does a CLO’s responsibility extend in an enlightened, twenty-first century company?

Assume your silo walls are coming down. Pockets of your organization are beginning to resemble W.L. Gore or Google or the agile companies you read about in Fast Company. Self-organizing teams are popping up. R&D is increasingly crowd-sourced. For the first time in memory, lots of workers are singing from the same hymnal (it’s accessible on the corporate social network.) You are becoming a Cohesive Organization.

You’re the CLO. The New York Times tips you off to something that could improve your company’s performance while lowering your workers’ risk of heart attack, stroke, and metabolic syndrome. The intervention is somewhat controversial but the medical community agrees that it works. The cost is minimal. No manager in the company is clearly accountable for this area.

The issue is sitting down, namely the new finding that too much time spent sitting down is bad for your health. Office chairs kill.

Let’s use the Sitting issue as a case example. Read the facts and then decide whether you’d speak up and push for change or just let this one pass. Ask your peers what they think.

“What does a man do on two legs, a dog do on four legs, and a woman do sitting down? The answer of course is shake hands.” (That’s your ice-breaker for introducing the topic of standing while working to your colleagues).

Author note: What you’re reading is what I submitted. The CLO site has the version they printed. I didn’t expect to get away with the joke.

Mayo Clinic’s Dr. James Levine says “Sitting is the new smoking. It’s literally bad for you.” Levine points out that “People who sit more are more prone to cancers, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon, I mean, multiple cancers. In addition, sitters are more prone to depression, to feeling blue. Even people who have mental illness, their illness is actually worse.”

Sitting more than three hours a day reduces your life expectancy by two years. Watching more than two hours of TV per day takes another year off your life. The more you sit, the greater your risk of having a heart attack or coming down with diabetes. Regular exercise does not counterbalance the bad effects of sitting.

Sitting makes you fat. Obese people sit an average of two and a half hours a day more than thinner people.

A few companies are consciously trying to promote standing up:

  • They have instituted walking lunch groups and yoga classes.
  • Timers remind employees to stretch, walk around, and take breaks.
  • People take phone calls standing up (which also boosts confidence and voice quality).
  • Companies are removing tables and chairs from meeting rooms. This leads to shorter meetings.
  • Savvy employees take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • People walk to others’ desks instead of emailing them.
  • Participants encourage everyone to stand at meetings.
  • People can order stand-up desks and even treadmill desks.

Let’s acknowledge that adopting less sedentary work practices will be difficult. People like to change but they don’t like to be changed. If you make standing while working compulsory, many employees will engage in a (forgive me for this) sit-down strike.

Difficult does not mean impossible. Remember when smoking was banned in offices? In restaurants? In bars? Many of us didn’t expect that to work any better than Prohibition, yet today it’s the law of the land.

Unlike smoking, where worries about second-hand smoke endangering non-smokers’ health led to regulation, people who sit excessively only hurt themselves (and perhaps increase their employers’ health insurance premiums).

Unlike smoking, standing can be implemented piecemeal. It can be voluntary. People can stand wherever they work; they don’t have to huddle outside of the building in the elements.

Standing all day isn’t particularly good for you either. Too much standing wears out ankles and knees and can contribute to bad posture. Standing for 50 minutes and sitting for 10 may be optimal.

That’s the case study. On the plus side, standing while working increases longevity and the likelihood of dodging diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, and other maladies. On the negative side are the one-time cost of acquiring new furniture and the rebellion of workers who resist change. Net-net, it makes business sense to encourage workers to stand and to make it easy for them to do so.

What are you going to do as CLO? Are you obligated to share this knowledge? Will you advocate standing up for something that makes people healthier at little cost? If not you, who? If not now, when?

Is making the company a better place to work a CLO’s responsibility? Or is that someone else’s job? Yeah, I’d really like an answer to that one.

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