“Office Workers Too Sedentary,” said the BBC headline that morning. The timing could not have been more apt, since my colleague Beth and I had just begun to discuss the official launch of our in-house wellness program, HITLAB Balance. Our goal? Transforming workers’ health by transforming workplace wellness.

Despite all HITLAB does to promote health around the globe, more often than not our own work requires sitting in front of a computer screen. Healthy activities take a back seat when deliverables are due. This is especially true of a fast-paced work environment like ours. How do we fight the inertia of a sedentary workplace?

In the BBC article, Gavin Bradley from Get Britain Standing said, “We’re all victims of our environment…we’ve taken a lot of activity out of the workplace and we’re sitting longer and longer. We need new and innovative ways of addressing the issue.”

Thankfully, innovation is not a novel term at HITLAB. After a month spent interviewing staff members, the HITLAB wellness committee designed a program to meet our needs. HITLAB Balance aims to shape our work environment by incorporating bite-size, healthy activities into daily work life in a sustainable, inconspicuous way.  

We know employer leadership makes all the difference. Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace: Employee engagement insights for U.S. business leaders (a report based on surveys with hundreds of American organizations and 25 million+ employees) identifies essential strategies for improving employee well-being. To succeed, employers must shape the workplace environment to inspire healthy choices. Effective employee wellness programs convince employees they are supported by their companies. In other words, employers need to show employees their wellness is valued. This leadership support is a key component in creating a workplace culture that not only encourages but also contributes to overall employee wellness.

Our solution? Begin the integration of healthy habits into a regular HITLAB workday. Employees are now motivated through weekly emails—and an interactive whiteboard logging chart—to complete five healthy activities every day: 

Office Stretch. Employees are encouraged to step away from their desks and participate in a series of guided stretches. 

Block Walk. Employees can take a 15-minute break for a walk around the block.  

Standing Meetings.  Standing meetings get everyone on their feet and also keep conferences efficient (because as great as standing is for our health, I have not met many enthused about sitting, let alone standing, through hour-long meetings). 

Stairs Instead. HITLAB is located on the fifth floor; employees are encouraged and reminded to use the stairs when they can (even two floors will do!). 

Stay hydrated. Proper hydration is another important part of good health and also provides a good excuse to step away from the computer. 

These activities have been chosen because they fit in seamlessly into a regular work day, making them a sustainable intervention to break up long bouts of sedentary behavior (an unhealthy habit into which too many working Americans fall).

To further motivate employees, HITLAB Balance offers an incentive system. Rewards programs have been shown to improve employee participation and engagement in health promotion efforts; HITLAB staff members can log their daily activities on a chart to earn points for our team.  If goals are met, staff is rewarded with prizes such as a team celebration.

As beneficial as HITLAB Balance is for employees here, it is also helping our company promote its mission to solve healthcare issues through technology-based solutions. A recent review of health promotion in smaller U.S. workplaces notes offices with less than 20 employees make up nearly 90% of all U.S. workplaces, and these employees are at higher risk for chronic disease. The report highlights the need for research and policy agendas for smaller workplaces as well as appropriate monitoring and evaluation systems. We’re thrilled to contribute to this effort and feel certain our internal program will infuse our client work with hands-on knowledge, not to mention inspiration. 

During the initial three-month pilot period, staff feedback was collected to shape programmatic components to better provide innovative, tech-based solutions to relevant health problems. The pilot concluded at the end of June with an overall increase in staff activity compared to the first pilot month. Due to this success we have officiated the hard launch of our now permanent HITLAB Balance program, and are very excited to see how well our team can sustain the progress it has made so far.