Healthy Habits within the Workplace

Healthy Habits within the Workplace

Healthy Habits within the Workplace 611 408 Hugill & Ip
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A recent study published in the scientific journal Occupational Medicine addresses the issue of healthiness of various combinations of sitting and physical activities in the workplace and during free time outside the office. It defines an “active couch potato” a person who is physically active when off work, but who also spends extended periods of time sitting down during the usual daily work routine. Such sedentary behaviour dramatically increases the chances of chronic diseases, e.g. diabetes, heart problems and strokes.

While many employees assume that being active when not working will give them a guaranteed protection from the dangers of deskbound life habit, in reality a more active approach should happen throughout the day, no matter if at home, in the office or when engaging in physical activities outdoor or at the gym.

Sedentary habits and health hazards

Different studies have shown how worldwide work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) result in the loss of 3.9% of global GDP, at an annual direct and indirect cost of €2,680 billion (about HK$ 25 trillion) and comprising more than 120 million disability-adjusted life years (DALY) lost. WMSDs embody a major public health problem and economic burden to employers, employees and health insurance systems, either public or private.

It is important to highlight that health risks associated with excessive sitting during the workday involving muscular atrophy are as relevant as repeated exertion, the latter being more often related to agricultural or construction or food-service occupations. According to a study carried last year in the U.S., near 92% of office workers worldwide reported musculoskeletal symptoms, related to persistent postures, prolonged keyboard, mouse use, high workload and distress. More generally, low back pain, neck pain and osteoarthritis are among the largest cause of loss of work productivity and work disability. Most WRMSDs can neither be diagnosed specifically nor associated with a strict pathology via physical examination and often symptoms may take weeks, months or in some cases years to develop, so it is important to detect them and act at an early stage.

Setting up new operations at Hugill & Ip and guaranteeing employees a healthy environment where to maximize productivity and staff satisfaction has certainly also taken into consideration such factors.

“One of the major hurdles that we wanted to avoid is being static: our practice, the city we live in and operate and the majority of our clients are dynamic and in constant change”, says Adam Hugill, partner at Hugill & Ip, “hence we have endeavoured to create an environment which is open and encourages communication amongst staff, while ensuring privacy and confidentiality to our clients and the matters we work on”.

The result was a mix of open office concept – with high desks that give staff the option of sitting or standing – and dedicated private areas with fixed workstations – e.g. desks with adjustable height – or different solutions for more or less formal meetings with clients. Such a choice has immediately shown benefits at different levels, in fact communication and teamwork have increased, whilst being able to concentrate on delivering the best service to clients has remained at a very high standard. Clients also feel more at ease and welcomed in an up-to-date environment like ours.

Being an agent of change within the local legal industry

Traditionally there has been a focus on promoting physical activity during recreational time, however everyone now knows that all forms of sedentary behaviour form a chronic health risk, not only physically but also mentally.

At Hugill & Ip we have called on all employees – from both a consultative and inclusive standpoint – to promote change in the workplace and strive for empowering ourselves by nurturing personal passions: from horse-riding to golf, from playing musical instruments to skiing, from practicing yoga to Thai kickboxing, from drama acting to triathlon, we are as diverse and eclectic as Hong Kong, our home, is. Certainly, such out-of-the-box take has been rather unusual in a profession that in general tends to be more conservative and traditional, but the feedback – both internally and amongst our business partners – has been extremely positive.

Alfred Ip, partner at Hugill & Ip, says: “During the setup process we were not particularly concerned that such approach and changes could cause disruption and could have cost implications. Putting workplace interventions into place in a creative and proactive way has helped us with this and has made realise all employees that such an investment is long-term and part of the vision of who we ultimately stand for”.

On a day to day basis, the simplest method to tackling this issue is the combination of health education about the risks of workplace sitting along with practical strategies for increasing physical activity while doing our jobs. This can be as easy as installing timed alerts or sending automated emails to remind people to move around, providing sit-stand workstations that allow workers to adjust their posture throughout the workday and organising fun group breaks where people are invited to stand up and stretch or even dance around. This is particularly easy when members of the firm have funky dance as one of their passions or when someone happens to be a certified personal trainer!

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