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Get Up, Stand Up: Workers on Notice to Re-energize With Movement

Workplace program pushes people to leave their desk and walk around for one to two minutes every 25 to 30 minutes.

January 15, 2013
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With a new year there often comes a renewed focus at work. But how can people maintain that focus and energy throughout the year?

Perhaps the answer is in "strategic movement," a workplace engagement tool advocated by Jack Groppel, co-founder of the Human Performance Institute and vice president of applied science and performance training at Wellness & Prevention Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company.

The principle behind strategic movement is simple: The brain functions better with increased blood flow. It takes only one to two minutes of movement after a period of rest to increase energy and motivation, Groppel says.

"Where have you been when you've had your best ideas?" Groppel asks. "You were most likely standing up and moving."

Aiming to upend the workplace culture of long sit-down meetings and hours spent slumped in cubicles, Groppel started Organizations in MOTION. The project studies what happens to performance, job satisfaction and engagement when workers add small, frequent amounts of exercise to their days.

The program advocates standing up and walking around for one to two minutes every 25 to 30 minutes.

"We're not saying, take a break," Groppel says. Rather, workers would focus their attention on movement, such as going up a flight of stairs or walking around their office floor.

New Balance, the Boston-based athletic-shoe and -apparel company, took up the challenge last year. Some 750 employees at two corporate offices participated in the program for 90 days. The workers received daily emails from Groppel suggesting ideas for frequent and creative movement in the workplace.

Volunteer "movement champions" helped motivate their peers to stick to the program. Participants set reminders on their desktop computers. Leaders were encouraged to remind workers that they needed to move, to get up from their desks frequently and stand up during calls and meetings.

Participants who climbed stairs during these short intervals could collect tokens and cash them in for small rewards, Groppel says.

At the end of the 90-day program, 53 percent said they had increased their physical activity and movement at work, and 89 percent said they would continue with the changes. Some 37 percent reported high levels of energy in the middle of the day, an 11 percent increase before the start of the challenge. And 42 percent reported increased engagement and focus at work.

Notably, the largest increases in responses were seen for self-reported statements such as, "I am enthusiastic about my job," "I find the work that I do full of meaning and purpose," "My job inspires me," "In the morning, I feel like going to work," "At my work, I feel bursting with energy," and "At my job, I feel strong and vigorous."

The footwear manufacturer continues to promote the program along with its other wellness offerings.

"This program enhanced our workplace environment by engaging our associates to collaborate in new ways to increase their energy and focus levels," says Joe Preston, executive vice president, global footwear product and marketing for New Balance.

Groppel says the idea of strategic movement at work has yet to take off.

"We still have a ways to go," he says of the program. "Corporate leaders have to give their employees permission to do this."

Some of his corporate clients are incorporating strategic movement by scheduling meetings for 55 minutes instead of an hour, blocking out the last five minutes to encourage movement, Groppel says.

"We have to look at how do we get the brain to be more engaged?" he says. "We have to teach people energy management, not just time management."

Rebecca Vesely is a writer based in San Francisco. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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