How to use the workplace to create good health
Today, about 60 per cent of all the labour force works in offices, which is an environment often characterised by low physical activity. Many employers encourage their employees to exercise by subsidising active healthcare activities, but it is a benefit often used by those who already enjoy an active lifestyle in their spare time, as a way of getting a discount on their gym membership. Researchers at MDH are investigating how instead to use the workplace itself as an arena for encouraging good health.
Lifestyle-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer are some of the major societal challenges of our time. Researchers are currently working on the project SOFCO, Concepts for the Sustainable Office of the Future, to investigate how a sustainable lifestyle that promotes good health for both people and the planet can be encouraged in the workplace.
“Since full-time employees spend a large proportion of their waking hours at work and return to the same place, the workplace could be used as an arena for health promotion efforts to a much greater extent than what occurs today,” says Katarina Bälter, Professor of Public Health Sciences at MDH. This also applies during the pandemic where our home has become a kind of workplace.
Katarina Bälter believes that it is those who least who benefit most from getting movement into their daily life.
“It can be in the form of walking or cycling. One way to get daily exercise is to have walking meetings or take the opportunity to walk while talking on the phone.”
New times influence office design
Digitalisation has meant that we can work regardless of time and place and often in cross-border collaboration projects and networks. The boundaries between work and private life have become blurred. The new way of working has influenced the office setup, with activity-based flex offices as an example.
“This type of new offices and ways of working, also called “New Ways of Working”, is said to promote environmental and economic sustainability, as it optimises the use of office space. Although research shows that activity-based flex offices have managed to reduce office space for companies, there is still some work to be done to create good prerequisites for a healthy working life and a sustainable lifestyle where employees feel healthy. By focusing on people's well-being and for example offering outdoor spaces to work in, encouraging walking meetings, changing norms about where it is acceptable to work (for instance to spend half a day in a park or in the forest instead of being at the office), we can contribute to social sustainability through good health and well-being,” says Katarina Bälter.
Leadership an important factor for change
Today, we are very much controlled by norms, according to Katarina Bälter.
“If the norm is that you should sit at your desk all day, it might feel strange to take a walk instead while contemplating a job task and then sit down in a park to read a report. It is important that this new behaviour is accepted by your manager and therefore leadership is crucial in facilitating change.
The research project is still in its infancy and after the summer more results will be available. However, the group has carried out a compilation of scientific studies with the aim to improve the office staff’s eating habits. The compilation shows that contributions such as education, changes in the working environment and the type of food offered at work have a positive impact on the health of employees. In other words, the workplace is an unused arena for promoting well-being for people.
Health and well-being
MDH conducts research that ties in with all the UN's global goals for sustainability. This research domain is particularly relevant for Goal 3, on good health and well-being.
Conference on working life
Katarina Bälter will present her research in conjunction with the FALF 2021 conference (Forum for Working Life Research) between 14-16 June.
Research on the UN's global goals
World leaders have agreed to 17 global goals to achieve three great things by 2030: ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustices in the world and addressing the urgency of climate change.MDH conducts research in all the UN's global goals