Olympics give us a sporting chance

Can the Beijing Olympics inspire Britain's slothful office workers to free themselves from their desks?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

With the Beijing Olympics upon us, you’d expect to see a huge upswing in sporting activity among your fellow office workers, inspired by the sight of their athletic heroes endeavouring (and usually failing) to win gold.  But, if anything, the opposite has been happening – or not happening, as the case may be. According to new research, the average British office worker is a physically inactive workaholic.

We’ve known for some time that UK workers are bad at taking breaks, often powering through lunch and regularly working beyond contracted hours (two-thirds of us are guilty of this). But a new study, conducted by ICM for Canon UK, has calculated that we’re now spending a decidedly unhealthy 34 working weeks a year sitting at our desks. In fact, the average office worker spends a posterior-numbing five and a half hours every day sitting at his workstation, with one in five spending seven to eight hours in exactly the same position. And while these ‘immobility skills’ might be highly sought-after in some professions – guarding Buckingham Palace, say, or standing in for something at Madame Tussauds – it all points to a growing, girth-expanding problem in the British workplace.

What’s more, 20% of workers admit that their health is the last thing on their minds when they’re in the office, with a quarter admitting they also find it difficult to eat healthily during working hours. And our workaholic culture means that family and friends are also being forsaken along with exercise. Numerous studies have shown that taking breaks and exercise lead to increased productivity, lower rates of absenteeism, and improved staff retention. In other words, happier, healthier workers are good for the bottom line. But workers in the UK seem to be finding it very hard to get it right.

Canon’s solution to this perennial problem is a new ‘Office Olympian’ guide, which contains tips from independent experts on staying active, eating properly and maintaining good posture in the office – and we clearly need all the help we can get. Even going to make a cup of tea or picking up documents off the printer will at least get you away from your desk briefly, it suggests – while better diet and posture will also save your employer money in the long run.

Some of you may be tempted by Beijing’s celebration of sporting excellence to institute a Beijing-inspired Office Olympics, including events like the photocopier high jump, stapler archery, corridor sprinting, canteen table tennis and so on. But to be honest we wouldn’t recommend it – your health and safety people would have a fit...

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Olympics give us a sporting chance  
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