A workplace survey recently administered at the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department showed that too many of our department’s employees don’t have the time or energy to read books that interest them.
The survey also found that too many employees don’t have enough energy at the end of each workday to attend to the people they care about. And too many of us don’t have enough energy at the end of each work day to engage in personal interests.
These findings prompted me and our Wellness Team to review the department’s “Physical Activity” policy, originally created in September 2015. In my opinion, the policy is a good one, but after receiving the survey’s findings — too many of our people are tired and worn out after work — I and the Wellness Team wondered if the policy goes far enough.
It doesn’t. And my leadership in terms of ensuring that employees get some activity during the day has been lacking.
Many of us at the Health Department — like many others in the U.S. workforce — are somewhat deskbound, unable to leave our workstations for much of the day. We at the Health Department have explored the purchase of standing desks, but the cost to purchase such desks for all is currently prohibitive. We may take a look at purchasing these desks out of our budget over time.
In the meantime, we know that sitting all day is harmful to health — as the saying goes, “sitting is the new smoking.” So what can we as a county department do right now?
The purpose of the 2015 physical activity policy was to establish guidelines “to promote a work environment that increases opportunities for employees to engage in physical activity.” Regular physical activity, continues the policy’s purpose statement, “is one of the most effective disease prevention behaviors. Physical activity programs reduce depression, improve stamina and strength, reduce obesity when combined with diet, and reduce risks of high blood pressure, elevated blood lipids, stroke and type 2 diabetes.”
The policy encouraged employees to participate, if they could, in the department’s Walk With Ease program, which includes a walk-for-fitness routine, stretching exercises and heart-rate monitoring techniques (this program is designed for the general public; for more information, call 497-5025). The policy also prompted creation of dedicated space at the department for physical activity — our Wellness Room has hosted morning stretches, weekly yoga sessions over lunchtime, and healthy potluck lunches.
Employees were encouraged to take active breaks — walking outside during break time or walking inside the department building during inclement weather. Employees were also encouraged to participate in the Activity Bursts Everywhere for Fitness program (ABE), which features physical activity in an office setting (http://abeforfitness.com/browse-office-videos-1-date.html).
The policy also said any activity, meeting or function sponsored by the Health Department and scheduled for more than 90 minutes would include stretch breaks — the breaks were to be included on event agendas.
So I’ll go on record here that I have not done enough to encourage employee involvement in these physical activities. I’m not sure that any employee has been formally scheduled out of work to participate in the Walk With Ease program (employees could use their lunch hours to do so). The department does feature a Wellness Room, though morning stretches have tapered off. (Wellness Team leaders have recently agreed to reinvigorate these early morning sessions.) Yoga sessions also have tapered off (Wellness Team members thought nice spring and summer weather prompted our employees to get outside rather than stay inside for yoga — the Wellness Team is looking at re-establishing these noon sessions).
I’ve also done little to encourage employees to take active breaks, or to participate in the ABE program (I recently looked at the ABE website and it appears dated to me — I now recommend an affordable app titled “Office Yoga: At Your Desk.”)
Since 2015, I’ve also sat through plenty of long activities, meetings and functions at the Health Department that didn’t feature a break every 90 minutes.
And so, as the department leader, I’m reinvigorating all of these activities, and adding an item to the policy — employees will be asked to set timers on their fitness watches or smart phones to alert them every 90 minutes that they need to get up from their desk. A two-minute jumping jack session or quick walk hopefully will get the blood pumping and reinvigorate our staff to continue on with their work.
If sitting is the new smoking, I want Health Department employees — and everyone bound to a desk during the day — to walk on breaks, perform yoga at their desk, and stand up and stretch during long meetings.
If these activities give my employees a little more energy after work to read books, attend to the people they care about, and engage in personal interests, I’m all for it.
Now, excuse me while I do a little meditation at my desk.
Karen Sullivan is Butte-Silver Bow Health Officer and Director of the Health Department. Her column, The Public's Health, appears weekly on The Montana Standard's health page.