It’s the newest thing being called a severe threat to our health, sitting whether we’re sitting in front of the TV tempted to inhale an entire bag of chips or sitting in our office cubicle fielding phone calls, compiling reports for our bosses; sitting according to the leading health studies is another cause for heart attacks, diabetes and weight gain even touting how a slight bit of extra sitting can add unwanted bulk to your backside. This along with ever rising healthcare costs has caused employers to put yet another tool into their get healthy arsenal; added to on site gyms, yoga classes, smoking cessation support groups, stress management courses are standing desks equipped with treadmills designed to get people walking at a leisurely pace as they talk on the phone answer e-mail, input data into computers, anything to get people out of their chairs and moving. Not a bad thing many think with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, our ongoing battle with obesity, but is that reality? One group of people might not think so, those with disabilities; for those with varying disabilities, birth defects, both mental and physical the workplace has become an unwelcome place despite anti-discrimination laws and a variety of disability services. Our nation’s get healthy craze is unfortunately just the latest potential hurdle for such persons in either obtaining a job or assimilating into the work environment.
Treadmill workstations are not exactly new for office spaces but what once was a novelty al- la silicon valley, the hippie health conscious company is now becoming more and more mainstream, nor are they the only type of office makeover to be found in recent years; office culture has taken leaps toward the healthy introducing walking lunches where coworkers spend the bulk of the time walking, simple signs that tell you how much of a mile you’ve walked by making it this far into the building, groups of coworkers who elect to take the stairs instead of the elevator, even walking meetings, walking break times. More and more meetings are held standing today to keep them shorter and people better focused. All positives to get people into the habit of moving, incorporating minimal exercise into their daily lives; however, it can take on a different life for someone with physical limitations. While no employer is being draconian about it, in fact at the office in the video link participation is completely voluntary, people sign up to use treadmill stations for an hour at a time, only requirement, proper footwear, there is the challenge for said people of fitting in with such a dynamic. Persons using wheelchairs and scooters obviously cannot participate in the exercise part of walking lunches and meetings but have little trouble keeping up with fellow workers for the social or strategy aspects of the encounters, simply moving alongside coworkers as they go. Yet people who are ambulatory using mobility aids like canes, walkers and forearm crutches aren’t so lucky, if they can walk the duration of the meeting, lunch, planning session, keeping up, hearing, participating may become a problem. Other factors include chronic pain, bodily wear and tear; they may refuse socializing like this during the work day because of the accumulated toll it could take on their body over a 40 hour work week, based on a need to go home and complete household chores that require standing walking or other potentially painful movement if done too much, errands they have to run after work requiring the use of a body part that routinely bothers them.
Quite obviously no employer can refuse employment to a person with a disability because they can’t use work stations such as these, because they would be an odd fit to an ultra-healthy work culture doing these things to improve their quality of life. And again obviously coworkers are not going to demand someone with an easily identifiable disability accompany them on walking gatherings, but this too creates a scenario where the person feels left out, friendships normally formed in the workplace are not, networking opportunities are lost or there begins to be resentment on the part of colleagues when the working/walking lunch, strategy session, meeting has to be changed to accommodate someone with a disability, when in our fast paced lives we are forced to lose an activity chance to include the differently abled, something that is particularly acute in team oriented environments, any situation where individuals have a reason not to like this team member or they are new to the company. On the other hand the person the sacrifice is being made for may feel guilty, self-conscious undermining productivity and working relationships. It becomes one more way the workplace of the 21st century is unwelcoming to the disabled, right behind jobs they can’t apply for because basics like clerical demand a driver’s license, a hotel front desk job may be too much for an ambulatory person because of the walking back and forth for check in paperwork, simple jobs working in a book store, library require shelving books on high shelves and taking inventory again on high shelves. Now health trends add new complexity to obtaining a job for disabled individuals; now they have to worry about requesting accommodation, being armed with sections of the ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) to be furnished a normal desk, cubical or other workspace in the growing number of offices utilizing standing desks if not the treadmill variety. Situations ripe to bring all too much attention to one’s physicality, outward attributes rather than the skills they bring to the table, and if they don’t get a position in such a place, they are left to wonder if it really was a lack of skill, personality clash or was it the accommodation the employer knew they would have to provide? Unfortunately getting the job in this type of office can lead to problems too putting them in an awkward position of being the only person at a traditional desk, the only person not taking advantage of healthy options on the job causing isolation.
Similarly workplaces are not ideal for people with developmental delays; while this is not attached to a health trend it does explain alarming figures regarding those with autism when it comes to things like graduating high school, obtaining a college education or vocational training and procuring employment. Aside from those who are nonverbal, have only a vocabulary of a few words, need attendants and so forth for things like toileting, cannot perform basic daily living tasks, difficulty reading, speaking and understanding social cues often makes people uncomfortable, a disaster in today’s team oriented workplace. So called high functioning autistic persons fair somewhat better being able to live in group homes, hold minimum wage jobs in movie theaters, janitorial work, possibly some fast food or basic factory work; however considering changing employer needs, there are less and less low skill jobs out there, jobs that can accommodate the unique attributes of someone facing these challenges. Few employers are willing to take the chance on such a person when they feel they don’t have the time or funds to train an average employee, leaving autistic people with good skills in mechanics, computers to muddle through taking unpaid internships and volunteer work, doing nothing to bring about self-sufficiency. More alarmingly is the sheer number of children being diagnosed with a disorder somewhere on the autism spectrum; 1 in 150 was the shocking statistic from just 3 years ago. It has dwindled according the most up to date studies to as little as 1-88, meaning more and more young people confronting said disorders will lack k-12 education, college becomes an impossibility and vocational training a distant maybe. Long term worries encompassed on one question what becomes of our workforce, reinforcing the next point relating us back to health trends.
As working populations’ age, retirement ages increase, droves of people either choose or are economically forced to work past traditional retirement parameters, current office habits also come into play; suddenly replacing disabilities had from birth, serious accidents, you easily find yourself dealing with a workforce containing arthritic knees, former football, back injuries that act up under certain conditions. Translation, similar to someone with a more distinct disability, they may have trouble concentrating in a standing meeting if they are distracted by pain, if they are struggling to keep their balance or may be a distraction to others if they appear fidgety, moving to avoid pain, stiffing of certain areas. Almost worse than people with easily identified disabilities, people sporting any number of mentioned issues are in an even tougher social position at work; where you can beg off using the company gym implying you use your own or pointing out your own gym membership should you have it, and if you don’t smoke you don’t need the cessation of smoking support group, can express your distaste for yoga and bring up something you use instead, tout your own stress management techniques, when it comes to why you can’t use a standing desk or why you refuse to use a treadmill workstation, individuals soon find themselves explaining things that really aren’t others business, things they may not want to disclose, but they quickly grow tired of even the polite force exerted by coworkers housed in statements like you got-a try this. Explanations seem to be of greater need if the person, even reaching 50 or 60 is so much as slightly overweight never mind obese; in both cases explanations are needed lest others think them lazy, slovenly, uncaring about their health, opinions too many will then attach to the work being done.
Despite claims of increased focus, clarity and alertness, ability to think when using a treadmill workstation, all is not wonderful with the new trend, you don’t want someone to clumsily lose their footing during a phone call irritating a customer, a series of them, the IT department certainly doesn’t want a worker clumsily losing their balance and hitting keys on the keyboard that mean hours of work to restore it to normal operation, that means they accidentally erased the 4th quarter sales figures from the computer. Anyone having viewed an episode of Funniest Home Videos knows the mishaps that can happen with treadmills; going beyond silly stunts, people trying to jump onto a moving one, there is real concern here. Learning which setting allows you to move and still type, talk on the phone and do other work is a process; people can accidentally hit the wrong setting and nearly be thrown from it. Workstations placed to close to walls can lead to a fall creating a hole, to say nothing of damage to the computer, phone or desk portion of the apparatus when a person about to fall instinctively reaches for what they can grab. You, the employer, don’t want a flood of workman’s comp claims due to injuries gotten from these kinds of workstations; neither do you want employees missing work to see doctors or do to said injuries. And it’s not the only office get healthy craze bound to cause problems take the stairs not the elevator initiatives can be hazardous too especially for older workers whose painful knee or hip could give out causing falls, broken bones, on increasingly hard, concrete stairs, head injuries, in extreme cases death. In that event you the employer now have to worry about the reality of a wrongful death suit from the grieving family alleging your workplace attitudes, philosophy, mentality contributed to their demise, a costly, time consuming mess that could very well put you out of business
Solving this budding problem in the workplaces of the future begins with realizing working wounded- the title of a well-known book describing mental, emotional, situational pitfalls in the office, company, on the factory line isn’t just about griping coworkers, bully bosses, office mates stealing your ideas, every one of which weighs on your morale, can cause illness and forces many to quit jobs, it too can be about tensions created in the work atmosphere for both the older worker and the differently abled. Solution, leave the health equipment in the gym, to the late night infomercials for Body Gospel, P-90X, the latest exercise apparatus the latest program only taking minutes a day; continue to offer an employee gym, yoga classes, quit smoking support, stress management courses, then let individuals chose whether or not they use them. Allow or simply say nothing when someone is sitting at their cubical, office desk behind a closed door on an exercise ball. Encourage modified exercises specifically designed for the ultra-busy having to use their office as a gym, because any desk can be a standing desk providing no one cares if you stand, fidget or rock back and forth on your feet while taking calls, you tap your feet or otherwise move while typing e-mails, compiling reports and leave it at that, making social room for the differently abled, people with bad knees, slipped disks and so forth who get all the workout they need living their daily life, struggling to do what we take for granted.