When Agile Working isn’t Working

May 10, 2016

Agile Working is a ‘hot topic’ at the moment and we hear many stories about how brilliantly employers have implemented an Agile Working Programme (AWP). Such accounts demonstrate how that success has positively impacted productivity, personnel satisfaction, wellbeing and engagement. We hear rather fewer stories about what happens when it fails but I fear that proper investigation would show that the failures outnumber the successes.

I am an enthusiastic advocate of a good AWP but it seems that many organisations fail to grasp the scale and planning required for a successful implementation. Indeed, it is probably fair to say that many of the so-called AWPs that have been described to me barely justify the title. There is much more to do than simply take away some desks and give everyone a laptop or clear some office space and fill it with an apparently random selection of brightly coloured soft seating or install sit-stand desks and assume everyone will know how to use them.

I think that the problem lies in confusion about who ‘owns’ the process. Often it may be driven by Estates or Facilities but the managers involved need to take a broader view than their usual professional perspective. A collaborative, multi-disciplinary programme group is essential and a key member (probably the key member) is the Change Management expert. These specialists understand how to manage the staff consultation process, accommodate the psycho-social factors and implement appropriate training and support. Any successful programme is almost certain to require external assistance or, if the project is big enough, the creation of new roles within the business specifically to deliver the programme.

I would love to hear about your own experiences. Have you been part of one of the successes? Or part of something that failed or never really ‘got going’?


How much should I stand at work?

March 7, 2016

newspaper_headlines_600As the debate about too much sitting rages on, there are many misunderstandings. ‘How much should I stand at work?’ is a question we are asked frequently but, like ‘What is the best office chair?’, it is one of those ‘not really the right question’ questions. Thanks to the reach and diversity of the ‘net, the volume of information on the topic – impartial research, marketing blurb pretending to be research, informed opinion, ill-informed opinion and downright nonsense – continues to grow and, for many, the newspaper headlines and conflicting messages are bewildering.

When people ask me about the ‘right’ amount of time to sit and stand, I jokingly ask them to give me a figure that suits their needs and I will find them some research to support that figure! As a non-academic, it seems to me that researchers always say that more research is needed (possibly because they are actively seeking funding to extend their research?) but they are not always good at looking objectively at existing research, especially if it may contradict theirs (possibly because they are actively seeking funding to extend their research?).

Sometimes, history is completely ignored. Reports as far back as the nineteenth century and significant research from the 1980s onwards identify musculo-skeletal symptoms associated with long periods of standing amongst retail workers and others. Yet, the Consensus Statement published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) in 2015 concludes that those whose jobs are predominantly desk-based should “progress towards accumulating 2 hours per day of standing and light activity (light walking) during working hours, eventually progressing to a total accumulation of 4 hours per day”.

I have already stated that I am not an academic and I must also make it clear that I have no medical training either but, as one who has spent over twenty years working in the field of workplace ergonomics, it seems to me that the research basis for the BJSM paper makes cardiovascular issues its focus and ignores or trivialises the musculo-skeletal considerations. I know many people who could not possibly stand for as much as four hours a day, yet a document with the Public Health England logo in its header advises them to do so.

No wonder there is so much confusion!

what-can-we-learn-from-spacePrompted by the disparity in advice and encouraged by recent conversations with professional colleagues and friends, I have been looking for research-based recommendations that we may be more confident about. As a result, I have been reading ‘Sitting Kills, Moving Heals’ by Dr Joan Vernikos, former NASA Director of Life Sciences.

At first glance, the cover has the look of one of those slightly dubious self-published, self-help books but the content is based on thirty years of NASA research and experience. It was published in 2011 (more work that was apparently ignored or overlooked in the BJSM conclusions) but is particularly topical at the moment since British astronaut Tim Peake has been carrying out cardiovascular research on the International Space Station.

In simple terms, Dr Vernikos’ primary recommendation to reduce the cardiovascular risks of prolonged sitting is to stand up often. Her work concludes that the length of time standing is not relevant but the number of times you stand up is what matters. In other words, standing up ten times for two minutes is ten times more effective than standing up once for twenty minutes. The answer to the question ‘How much should I stand at work?’ is therefore little and often. A couple of minutes a few times an hour should suffice. Remember, though, that this must be throughout your waking hours, not just at work. Obviously, other elements of a healthy lifestyle will also help and we continue to recommend all our other sit-stand tips.

Of course, the 150-page book contains much more than one simple recommendation and the history, background, medical and scientific explanation makes an easy, enjoyable read. It is likely I shall blog further about this in due course.

In the meantime, I look forward to being challenged about this article! What do you think?

Health Spa Thinking in the Workplace

August 13, 2013

friends at the spaI have just returned from a week at a Health Spa and I have been ruminating about how much the rationale behind such establishments is moving into mainstream employment.

When I first visited Inglewood Health Hydro (now closed down) about 30 years ago, there were only a few “health farms” in existence and Champneys (the most established UK brand today) was just getting started. In those days, everyone came for a week and the diet for the first three days was a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon in it, 6 times a day. If that was just too demanding for you, you could “wimp out” by exchanging the lemon slice for orange!

At that time, some of the treatments still being offered today (Indian Head Massage, Reiki, Reflexology, Aromatherapy, Shiatsu) were considered by many to be rather “new age” and certainly, amongst my politically-incorrect twenty-something friends in the eighties, “a bit girlie”! Over the years, science and knowledge (and menu!) have evolved but the fundamental thinking has always been about a holistic approach to health and wellbeing.  By contrast, I think it is fair to say that this thinking was almost unknown in employment circles until comparatively recently.

Step forward to the present day and health spa guests are able to spend their visit selecting a combination of activities to help with reducing stress, losing weight, adapting diet, getting fitter or just “chilling out”. Since the emergence of the metrosexual, the activity and treatment programme is no longer really perceived as gender-biased, whether it is a hot stone massage or spin class, a yoga session or a facial.

As they address the issues of obesity and an ageing workforce, the most enlightened and well-resourced employers are also taking a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. Offering healthy eating initiatives, cycle purchase programmes, improving ergonomics, subsidising gym access or even slowing down the lifts to encourage use of the stairs – these initiatives all enhance the lives of those participating.

Of course, the biggest challenge is convincing those who are not tempted by such opportunities.

My ideal solution? In a perfect (unlimited budget) world, I think everyone should be given the opportunity to experience a week involving a couple of hours’ exercise and an hour’s massage every day, interspersed with some relaxation, a few other treatments and, of course, a healthy, nourishing and tasty diet.

I realise this is unrealistic so, in the meantime, I have started saving for my own next visit!

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