JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Making the office work for you


Judy Barouch

Marie Claire editor Jackie Frank works out while she works.

Marie Claire editor Jackie Frank works out while she works.

Being on the work treadmill takes on a whole new meaning in the case of Jackie Frank, editor and publisher of Marie Claire magazine. Sweating it out on her private office treadmill, the multi-tasking Frank conducts editorial meetings or holds discussions with individual staff members while squeezing a workout into her packed day.

"I can focus best when I'm on it. There are no distractions: phone calls, emails or tweets," she says.

Frank admits, however, that towards the end of last year her treadmill began "gathering dust".

The Locus workstation is less tiring than standing yet more energising than sitting.

The Locus workstation is less tiring than standing yet more energising than sitting.

"My new year's resolution is to get back into the routine."

Most of us can't score our own office treadmill, but much can still be done to improve workplace wellness.

Physiotherapist Jane Parry from Sydney's Bay Active Physio visits offices to carry out ergonomic assessments, followed by recommendations for improvements.

The headquarters of SAP in Singapore, employing new thinking in workplace design.

The headquarters of SAP in Singapore, employing new thinking in workplace design.

One pain-in-the-backside issue crops up surprisingly often. "Many men keep a wallet in their back trousers pocket. If they're sitting on it all day, this elevates one buttock cheek above the other which can lead to lower back pain."

The answer? "Simply moving the wallet!" Parry says.

Ideally, a workstation assessment should take place as part of the orientation of a new employee. "If the workstation isn't set up correctly, then typically, at around three months into the job, problems such as neck and arm pain can emerge," Parry says.

"Take, for instance, a person who is 185cm tall. They should sit in a different chair to a 153cm person; its back should be high to support the shoulders, and there needs to be extra length in the seat pan."

It's a no-brainer that computer use contributes significantly to health issues, yet sometimes it only takes minor modifications to alleviate issues. "The best seated position is for knees and hips to be at 90 degrees. A shorter woman may need a footstool, whereas a taller man mightn't require one.

"Ensure that the keyboard and mouse aren't too far forward. Bring the mouse next to the keyboard towards the front of the desk to avoid strain on the neck and shoulder muscles."

And, for laptop users, Parry emphasises that a monitor-riser is essential.

While the benefits of improved workstation ergonomics are important, there are other significant issues increasingly being recognised; chief amongst these is the sheer amount of screen time many of us willingly expose ourselves to.

Research Professor Paul Taylor, director of the Body- Brain Performance Institute, recently provided a raft of recommendations for the Asia Pacific-Japan headquarters of SAP, a global software company.

To link all four levels of the company's new Singapore base, Taylor recommended stairs instead of lifts (except for one disability elevator) in order to get workers moving. He also suggested an area devoted to vibration plates. "These reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. The body gets a good workout but one doesn't sweat," he says.

Additionally, there are high desks - sans chairs - in meeting rooms to encourage standing rather than sitting, and each floor has a chill–out garden. One incorporates a reflexology pathway.

Yet despite researchers having long known that getting at least half an hour of moderate activity each day can reduce rates of chronic illnesses, delay ageing and improve mental acuity, it's only recently that studies have suggested that prolonged sitting is an independent risk factor for obesity, diabetes and cardio-vascular health.

Professor Adrian Bauman of the University of Sydney points out that otherwise active people who walk to the office, swim or play regular sport before or after work, but who stay seated for the rest of the day, can still be at risk of these diseases.

Bauman suggests some simple preventative measures: "Just moving your large muscle groups can be beneficial," he says. "Stand up for phone calls and if possible, have meetings while standing or even walking."

Adjustable work surfaces are another option, allowing alternation between sitting and standing positions. Electronic height adjustment enables hot desk-sharing situations.

The Locus is an innovative workstation that has just gained an award at the US 2012 National Ergonomics Conference. Encouraging a leaning posture halfway between standing and sitting, it's less tiring than standing yet more energising than sitting. A saddle-shaped seat with a pivoting leg and bent ply base ensures constant small movements of the legs and torso. A height-adjustable desk complements the seat.

With the get-up message gaining traction, it's likely that within 10 years many offices will have a different layout with fewer opportunities for prolonged sitting. "The human body isn't designed to sit for eight hours a day," Parry ssays. "In Japan, some companies set alarms to signify it's time to do stretches."

Vimcore is a software application created with support from the University of NSW's Venture Incubator Space. "It's a social platform that makes being healthy easier for employees by providing articles, programs and recipes composed by health professionals," says lead developer Tyler Atwell. "It's also pitched at companies, providing a management tool that gives recognition, praise and rewards for healthy behaviour."

It's free for employees and currently companies can trial it for free.

Activity monitors called Fitbits are the New Big Thing in the US. A tiny device tracks your daily number of steps taken and kilojoules burned. The data is synced to your smartphone, challenging and encouraging wearers to walk more.

9 comments so far

  • It is all very well to suggest taking the stairs but what if you have dodgy knees and are too proud to take the disabled lift?

    Just wondering
    Date and time
    February 18, 2013, 11:19AM
    • Or if you prefer not to spend the next 8 hours in meetings with colleagues who smell like they just came from the gym after climbing 18 flights of stairs?

      Date and time
      February 18, 2013, 12:23PM
    • I always find it funny that any article encouraging healthier behaviour will have the "but..." crowd.

      But I've got dodgy knees!
      But I'm too pretty to walk!
      But I can't afford vegetables because of my low salary, and I can only afford Big Macs and beer!

      Look, if you have some sort of condition that makes it hard to do something, then don't do it. (Was that so hard?)

      Date and time
      February 19, 2013, 11:12AM
  • Sheeesh, not the most flattering photo of Jackie....looks like she's barking orders at her staff!

    Date and time
    February 18, 2013, 11:57AM
    • this is the woman who some years ago loudly proclaimed that she was
      an "aspiration" for young women.

      Bye bye

      Catherine of Giverney
      Date and time
      February 18, 2013, 4:34PM
  • I've always made or taken phone calls standing up. It just seemed more natural. My brain also seemed to take in a little more, and filter the output a little better. Once the hand piece got disconnected from the desk, I also started walking around (much to the annoyance of co-workers). Of course, there are few destinations in an average office worth walking towards, and I found the place with the biscuits tended to be a bit of a magnet... which probably defeated the purpose. Taking notes while you're wandering down the corridor can be problematic too.

    Chester The Bear
    Lane Cove
    Date and time
    February 18, 2013, 12:23PM
    • Very glad i don't work for Marie Claire

      Date and time
      February 18, 2013, 12:40PM
      • Glad I'm a woman and can carry my wallet around in my trusty handbag! Guess it might be ok if you are a guy who doesnt have much dosh....then your wallet wouldn't be so thick!

        bag lady
        Date and time
        February 18, 2013, 2:54PM
        • I enjoyed the article. Exercising while working is a great idea. Women are always good at multi-tasking working and exercising at the same time. Are we the stronger sex or what!

          Date and time
          February 22, 2013, 9:11PM

          Make a comment

          You are logged in as [Logout]

          All information entered below may be published.

          Error: Please enter your screen name.

          Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

          Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

          Error: Please enter your comment.

          Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

          Post to

          You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

          Thank you

          Your comment has been submitted for approval.

          Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

          Featured advertisers
          Executive Style newsletter signup

          Executive Style newsletter signup The latest news delivered to your inbox twice-weekly.

          Sign up now