Is Sitting the New Smoking?

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If you’re reading this and you’re sitting down in an office at a desk,
ask yourself: how long have you been sat down today? What about this
week? And have you ever thought about the potential health issues
sitting for extended periods of time may cause?

As office suppliers, we at Viking are deeply committed to not only
kitting out the nation’s offices but also helping to improve them in any
way we can. Health and safety is important to us, and we often like to
consider the working
environment’s potential to impact those that work
within it.

Do people worry about desk work?

We wanted to investigate whether people worry about desk
work and its potential to impact their health, particularly within an office
environment. So, we surveyed a sample of UK office workers who sit at a desk
for more than 2 hours a day with the help of YouGov to see if we could get to
the bottom of it all.

The most concerning of our findings was that 86% of these
desk workers think about the negative impact their working environment may have
on their current physical health. This is quite a startling figure, and becomes
particularly worrying when considered against the finding that three in ten (28%)
had never been told by their current employer about how to minimise the health
risks caused by extended periods of sitting and 13% didn’t know whether they
have been given this information.

This suggests that a large number of the UK’s desk workers
have no idea how to mitigate the problems caused by desk work.

A survey commissioned by Fellowes – a provider of office
 – in 2016 found that a third of European workers suffer daily
from ailments caused by computer work. They also found that 60% admitted their
productivity and overall performance have been affected as a result. To compound
these findings further, the survey revealed that 32% have taken an average of two weeks off work – potentially costing businesses across Europe €73bn.

Are employers doing enough?

Health and safety in the workplace has come a long way over
the last 100 years, and our nation has made great strides towards ensuring
every worker can work in a safe and supportive environment. So, how have we got
to this point?

Accidents, such as trips and slips, are very well covered by
a wealth of preventative procedures and protocols. What our survey suggests,
however, is that ‘slow burning’ issues, such as sitting, are less in the
spotlight and, as such, may be falling under the radar.

Nearly three in ten (28%) of the desk workers we surveyed have
never been told by their current
employer how to sit safely for long periods of time, meaning a large amount of
businesses may actually be breaching the Management of Health and Safety at
Work Regulations 1999 act (as well as other legislation, such as HSWA 1974). This
act states that employers must ‘provid[e] staff with the necessary training and
equipment to do their job safely. In practice this means that staff should be
shown how to use and adjust their chairs and equipment for maximum safety and

On top of this, 37% of these desk workers worry regularly think
about the negative impacts a desk-based working environment may have on their
current physical health – with 17% thinking about it every day.

Interestingly, the Management of Health and Safety at Work
Regulations 1999 also states that ‘staff also need to be aware of their
responsibility towards their own, and other people’s health and safety. It is
important that employees notify their employers, or those responsible for
health and safety, if seating is unsuitable, faulty or damaged.’ What the
survey does not show, unfortunately, is whether the employees actually acted
upon their thoughts, and if not, why not.

One potential insight into a employee’s motivation to follow
up on their thoughts – or not – is the finding that a big chunk of these desk workers
do not feel their employer is doing enough to help. 39% think their
organisation or employer isn’t doing enough to ensure the health and wellbeing
of staff is not negatively impacted by the desk and seating arrangements.

How can we make a change?

There are several ways that employers and employees can
bring about positive change, and some are as simple as adjusting daily
routines. Others require increased responsibility from both parties, and an
increased awareness of what is expected legally from businesses.

Employers should make efforts to keep their staff informed
and working safely. This should include regular reminders about best practice
when it comes to sitting, viewing screens, and general desk work. Employers may
worry about appearing condescending – after all, you’d think everyone knows how
to sit, right? Sitting safely is an entirely different matter. Some people may
feel comfortable slouching, but the truth of the matter is that they may be
harming their posture, or their long-term health. And, as our figures suggest,
a significant percentage simply have never been told.

are an interesting solution, and one that is creeping into offices
across the country. The idea is that a desk can be used from both a sitting and
standing position, easily adjusted between the two throughout the day. Not only
does this help an employee work in a less sedentary manner, it can also help to
promote concentration and productivity.

The need for standing desks simply highlights the negative
impact of a sedentary working position coupled with long periods of very little
movement. Probably the simplest way to mitigate the ill effects of this is for
employers to encourage and regularly remind their workers to get up once an
hour and stretch their legs. This can be combined with useful activities such
as walking to the water fountain, or speaking to a colleague in another part of
the building instead of emailing them.

Encouraging employees to avoid eating lunch ‘al desko’ is
also a great idea. Not only will it stop yet another hour being spent at the
desk, it can also help clear the mind – making returning to work much more

The Future

Standing desks are likely to become much more common as
people learn more about the benefits of standing. According to,
80% of those who try sit/stand desks want to continue using it.

At Viking, we hope that employers take up the opportunity to
go above and beyond looking after their desk working employees. Gemma Terrar,
European HR Business Partner at Viking, said “offices and desk-based work isn’t
going away – in fact it’s likely only to increase. Simply doing the bare
minimum to educate your employees on how to avoid desk work related health
issues is a ticking time bomb.”

“Making a positive change is not just a benefit to your
employees – although that is a wonderful motivator – it can have a tangible
influence on your business, too. We’ll be watching this issue closely!”

How do you feel about
desk work? Have you ever used a standing desk, and if so, how did you feel? Be
sure to let us know over

Survey was commissioned by Viking and carried out by YouGov.
Total sample size was 4818 adults, of which 1,307 were UK employees who work in
an office and sit at a desk for more than 2 hours a day. Fieldwork was
undertaken between 17th – 21st March 2017.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and
are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).