The health risks of desk jobs: What can HR do?

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Are all desk workers fat and pale with bad eyesight? It might be an exaggeration, but a new survey shows deskbound employees are at a high risk for some health issues.

More than 50% of employees who spend their days behind a desk say they do not get enough physical activity. Staring at a computer screen for most of the day and being stuck inside, away from the sun, are the biggest disadvantages of having a desk job.

According to the recent survey from CareerBuilder, nearly half of employees surveyed gained weight in their current position compared to 30 percent of workers in non-desk jobs. The survey also finds that 58% of workers in desk jobs categorize themselves as overweight compared to 51 percent of their peers in non-desk jobs.

There were some upsides. Employees who work in desk jobs reported earning higher salaries, have access to technology and opportunity to communicate with bosses easily.
James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic.


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Mayo Clinic researcher James Levine found standing desks could help - a 2012 study finds "standers" burn 50 calories an hour more than "sitters" - but anything that encourages employees to move more often will help. Standing or treadmill desks, walking meetings, off-site activities and on-site gyms, or even an activity such as pool or foosball that will encourage people to spend less time at their desks.
"Step one is get up. Step two is learn to get up more often. Step three is, once you're up, move," he says. "And what we've discovered is that once you're up, you do tend to move."


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Standing desks are becoming readily available, for prices not far from the standard, and transforming desks, which can easily be changed to accommodate sitting or standing, help employees balance how much standing they want to do.

"Step one is get up. Step two is learn to get up more often. Step three is, once you're up, move," Levine says. "And what we've discovered is that once you're up, you do tend to move."
 

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