working habits Apr 29, 2021

4-Step Break Strategy That Any Office Can Incorporate

Sitting at a desk and using the same muscles for prolonged periods of time can be physically taxing on the body, but taking rest breaks and moving more can help ease the burden. As Ergonomics Consultants, we all know that there’s value in limiting the duration of posture—even when that posture is optimal or non-optimal. So in this post, I’ll be sharing with you a 4-step process for an extremely useful break strategy that you can coach your clients with when you’re doing office ergonomic assessments.

Promoting Movement Counters Sedentary Time

There's a firmly established link between the highest reported discomfort and the most sedentary positions. Research has shown that those who work in office jobs usually reported more discomfort when compared to other jobs with more physically demanding tasks. The research may sound counterintuitive, but it can be another good piece of marketing and content to share with your clients.

Well, one way that I've encouraged my clients to reduce discomfort is to limit the amount of prolonged sedentary activity by incorporating some movement throughout their day. This is an obvious point and it's also backed by past research. Previous research has specified that implementing movement at the workplace is necessary to reduce discomfort. This means that there’s a good opportunity to implement some strategies to mitigate ergonomic risks associated with sedentary behaviour in the workplace. However, there always seems to be contrasting information regarding this.

There appears to be differing recommendations on how to limit the ergonomic risk in the workplace. What this means is that there are a lot of options when it comes to the 'optimal break' schedule that would best limit ergonomic risk. But personally, I believe that the recommendations for the best type of activities that should be incorporated within these 'breaks' has never really been clear as to how office workers can do it consistently. 

Additionally, research has always indicated a strong link between prolonged sitting and user discomfort, specifically in data entry and call center operator positions. My hypothesis is that psychosocial risks play a big role in this as well. And what’s interesting is that even the most ergonomic posture can also increase risk if held for a significant amount of time. This is one of the main reasons why the use of alternative workstations like the sit-stand desks are so tempting for many. These sit-stand workstations promote a dynamic movement by allowing the user to change position between sitting and standing throughout the day whenever they see fit. Additionally, musculoskeletal complaints in sit-stand workstations tend to be lower when compared to a regular workstation. 

Despite the popularity of sit-stand desks to limit sedentary time, a major concern with these workstations is that there has always been low compliance. In some offices that I’ve seen, sit-stand workstations only collect dust or they’re just used in the sitting position. So that’s one thing to consider when recommending these workstations to your clients. I've found that sit-stand workstations have been the most successful for people who really wanted the workstation in the first place and wanted to use it for a long time.

The 4-Step Process for an Effective Break Strategy

Understanding the risks of sedentary behavior is only half of the equation; putting in place strategies that are practical for day-to-day is what puts the research into productive motion. But before I share with you the strategy for an effective break, I definitely recommend that you use the hierarchy of ergonomics controls. When it comes to controlling ergonomic hazards, the first priority should always be engineering controls. This type of approach involves engineering out the hazards by either making adjustments to the workplace or by bringing in other types of equipment that can reduce the ergonomic risks. After that, you want to look at the administrative opportunities. Then the next priority should be behavioral solutions. Of course, this includes incorporating break strategies. The reason why this is ranked third is because behavioral solutions rely entirely on the client's memory and habits. So it's slightly less effective than engineering and administrative controls. However, you could still bring this into your ergonomic solutions. 

Here are tips for reducing sedentary time that you can coach your clients with:

  1. Implement short and frequent breaks. Taking frequent short breaks (5 minutes every hour) can help limit static postures or repetitive tasks. During these “microbreaks,” encourage them to stand up, move around, or even perform other tasks. These small breaks allow them to recover from using the same set of muscles and reduce discomfort. Interestingly, some research found that productivity still improved by 10% even with taking more frequent breaks throughout the day.
  2. Incorporate a routine. Making break time a part of their routine is key in order to get the best outcomes. There are two ways to incorporate routine: providing sit-stand workstations or using break reminder software.
  3. Advise against stretching programs. The reason for this is because there’s limited results to their success at limiting discomfort.  It takes a lot of training and refreshers to do the best type of stretching, and the staff has to know when/how to incorporate stretching programs. However, implementing stretching programs in conjunction with engineering controls and administrative controls to have a more holistic program can be valuable.
  4. Incorporate postural changes. In order to have the best results in reducing discomfort, it’s best to incorporate postural changes instead of stretching. When it comes to postural changes, the biggest value to reduce discomfort is to make large body movements within that 5-minute per hour break routine. This process involves changing the position of the entire body. 

So if the person is in a seated position, an appropriate postural change would be to stand up or take a quick walk. If the person is in a standing or sit-stand workstation, then an appropriate postural change would be to sit or do a quick walk. One example of including postural changes into your client’s day is to make them stand up whenever they have to take a call. This allows that posture change while maintaining their productivity. The key here is to incorporate it in the day so they're not just relying on their memory to do it.

In Closing

So those are some of the counterintuitive tips you need to keep in mind. I hope you pick up some valuable insights and run with it the next time you’re doing ergonomic assessments. 

All of this information has also been compiled into an infographic that will be shared to members of the Accelerate program. This is a very valuable program so that members can place their logo on it and use it as marketing content to share with prospects and clients. After all, it can take between 7-13 touches to turn a prospect into a client (and keep current clients warm), and Accelerate gives you the tools, strategy and continuing education to do this! Imagine all the time you can spend developing relationships, and completing assessments instead trying to "figure it out yourself" or feeling like you're on a hamster wheel of content generation! Accelerate helps you focus on the important actions that will grow the impact of your ergonomics consulting business! 

If you want to learn more how you can grow your ergonomics consultancy, sign up to the waitlist for the Accelerate program. You can get early access to the training series that I'll be doing before the opening of the enrollment.


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