Japanese firms encourage workers to sit less

September 26, 20169:50 am476 views

Increasing numbers of Japanese companies are taking aim at sedentary work styles as awareness of the health benefits of standing up and stretching is on the rise.

At the headquarters of Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten in Tokyo, employees have been issued with desks that allow them to work standing up or sitting down.

When Rakuten moved its headquarters from Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward to suburban Setagaya in 2015, it introduced the new desks, which can adjusted for height.

In part, this was to take account of Rakuten’s growing number of foreign employees, for whom standard-sized Japanese desks were a little on the low side.

Engineers, it seems, often opt to work standing up at Rakuten, thanks to their adjustable desks. Other employees also appreciate the benefits of working on their feet when they want to, saying it improves communication and stimulates new ideas and fresh perspectives.

Electric cable maker Fujikura has installed exercise bars at the office so that workers can literally hang out when they want to.

“When we got stuck in a business meeting, we say, ‘Let’s have a stretch,” an employee in the personnel section said. “It feels good when I hang from the bar and it changes things,” a 25-year-old female worker said.

Since 2009, the Tokyo-based company has taken various steps to promote its employees’ health, including issuing them with pedometers. Such initiatives are apparently having a beneficial effect, as the number of workers diagnosed with metabolic syndrome has decreased, while the firm’s sales and operating profits have increased.

NTT Software, an affiliate of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, renovated its office and removed a number of dividing walls, creating a 110-metre-long aisle through the main work area.

The company said this encourages its employees to walk around and talk to their colleagues as they can easily see where they are. “Walking has become a habit and I’ve come to exercise more on my days off,” an employee said.

Furniture maker Itoki believes that behind the trend away from sitting for long periods is the recognition that however comfortable the chair, people still suffer if they sit for too long.

“Even if we improve the design of chairs, we still can’t reduce the number of people complaining of stiff shoulders or backache,” an Itoki official said.

Now Itoki is proposing what it calls “workcise,” in which workers are urged to stretch while working to promote their health.

Koichiro Oka, professor of health behaviour science at Waseda University, warned of the adverse effects of sitting for extended periods while working on personal computers at the office.

“If you think it is all right not to move much on weekdays because you exercise at the weekend, you’d be wrong,” he said. “A lack of exercise during the week can lead to such health problems as heart disease and diabetes.”

The government is playing its part in promoting health awareness among businesses. In January, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and Tokyo Stock Exchange picked 25 listed companies as their “health and productivity selection” for 2016 for their efforts to improve employees’ health from a strategic business management point of view.

Among those chosen are convenience chain store operator Lawson, cosmetics maker Kao, tire maker Bridgestone and Japan Airlines.

news source: bangkokpost.com

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