Prescription for Walking Could Benefit Call Center Employees
It’s a fact of modern life that the human body was not designed for sitting long hours in front of a computer. Common aches and pains offer everyday proof. Less obviously, however, sitting for uninterrupted stretches impairs the body’s ability to prevent the build-up of plaque that restricts blood flow to the heart. In one study, people who sat for 8 hours or more per day had a nearly 20% higher risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death than those who sat 4 hours or less.
Even before the pandemic, call center employees were considered a particularly at-risk group for these and other chronic health effects due the screen-focused nature of their work and limited opportunity to move freely. Unlike most office workers, service representatives are paid only for the time spent logged in answering calls. Although breaks for lunch and a few minutes to use the bathroom or get a cup of coffee are routine, activities like taking a walk or attending an exercise session often conflict with productivity.
The compounding effect of work-from-home
Now, with the acute phase of the pandemic behind us, a large percentage of customer service agents have joined the ranks of work from home employees, and while this transformation has brought benefits, such as reduced commute time, the toll of prolonged sitting has not gone away and may even be worse. A Stanford University researcher studying the impact of remote work on inactivity found that working from home was associated with two more hours per day spent sitting. Moreover, less ergonomic home office set-ups may be increasing the incidence of poor posture and lower back pain.
Walking as medicine
Fortunately, specific guidance for offsetting the negative effects of prolonged sitting is emerging. In a recent study, Columbia University exercise physiologists set out to answer the question: What is the least amount of activity needed to counteract the health impact of a workday filled with sitting?
Unlike other studies that tested one or two activity regimens, this study compared five different combinations of sitting and walking to answer the question. These ranged from one minute of walking after every 30 minutes of sitting to five minutes of walking after every 60 minutes of sitting.
The sweet spot? Five minutes of light walking every half hour was the only combination that mitigated some of the most harmful cardiovascular effects of sitting for long periods of time. According to Keith Diaz, the study’s lead author, this was the only amount that lowered both blood pressure and blood sugar, key indicators of cardiovascular health. Moreover, all the walking regimens, except walking one minute every hour, significantly decreased fatigue and improved mood.
This finding is important, Diaz said, because until now there haven’t been clear guidelines about just how much people need to break from sedentary time. He specifically called upon employers to encourage the workforce to walk for 5 minutes every half hour. “But even if that is too much,” he said, “if someone cannot get away from their desk every half hour, even moving every hour is still good enough…to lower your blood pressure and have some health benefit.”
Given the substantial amount of time call center employees spend sitting, these new quantitative guidelines might be considered “low-hanging fruit” for developing targeted programs to prevent adverse health outcomes.
Employers like BroadPath, which have a substantial portion of employees in CX-related roles, can encourage simple measures such as planned movement breaks and provide education on the ill effects of uninterrupted sitting. Gamification strategies with badges, points, and leaderboards can create additional motivation for adherence, while built-in social communities may help individuals find incentives to stand, walk, or otherwise move.
Finally, leaders should strive to stay current with behavioral interventions and recommendations targeting specific occupational environments, keeping in mind the special needs of our customer service workforce.