Does Your Nonprofit Suffer from a Culture of Sitting? How To Change It | Beth’s Blog

Does Your Nonprofit Suffer from a Culture of Sitting? How To Change It


On February 12th, I’ll be presenting on a FREE Guidestar Webinar on healthy and productive meetings and talking about walking meetings (register here).    There is much research out there about why sitting at work is downright dangerous for your health.  There is also research about how walking or even standing up at work can increase you and your team’s creativity.  Yet, many nonprofits are losing productivity and less creative because they are trapped in a culture of sitting. It’s time to change that up – here’s why and some tips for making that shift in your nonprofit.

We know sitting too much is bad for your health,  but the culture norm at work is sitting, whether it be around a meeting table with other people or in front of a computer screen. What exactly goes wrong in our bodies when we have to sit eight hours or more per day for our work?   Many things says experts who detailed a chain of problems from head to toe.  There is a lot more research out there about the harmful effects of sitting.   It is enough to make you stand up and go out for a walk right now!

Getting Started:  Stand Up, Take Small Steps

Aside from standing up at your desk, leaving the office, and never coming back as The Onion recently suggested (hat tip Kevin Martone), there are some great ways to get started with walking or standing more at work.  These are things you can do right now.

Image by Beverly Trayner-Wenger

In a recent discussion on Facebook, colleague Beverly Trayner-Wenger mentioned “I find that standing, rather than sitting, at my computer, has made me more demanding and productive in meetings.”   She shared a photo of her standing desk hack.   She creatively uses a carton and music stand, so a standing desk doesn’t have to be expensive.  She does recommend investing in a soft pad as your feet can get sore.    I’m also seeing colleagues move to treadmill desks.  DH Leonard recently shared this reflection about how she moved from sitting to walking while she works.

Here are some good tips for breaking your sitting habit with some small steps:

  • Drink more water. Going to the water cooler and restroom will break up sitting time.
  • Take a break from your computer and stand at least every 30 minutes.
  • Stand during meetings, while taking phone calls, or during teleconferences.
  • Use the stairs when possible.
  • Skip the phone and go talk to your colleagues in person.
  • Use a height-adjustable desk so you can alternate between sitting and standing.
  • Use a stability ball instead of a desk chair when you do sit.  Sit­ting on a ball requires you to engage your body’s core muscles to stay balanced and upright.
  • Encourage your company to create a more movement-oriented environment, from placing printers farther away from desks to locating employee parking lots farther from the building entrance.

A Walking Culture at Work

It isn’t exactly breaking news that walking is healthy and if we walk regularly, it helps us remain calm, alert, focused, and happy.  Much more so than if we were inactive.  Studies have also shown that walking and standing while we work can help us be more creative and productive.   Recently, researchers at Stanford University tested creativity in people that were walking vs sitting.  They discovered that the majority of people were more creative when they were walking. They found that creativity improved by an average of 60% when the person was walking.  What nonprofit wouldn’t want their staff to be more creative?

However, there is one caveat to the whole walking vs sitting study.  The researchers found that walking helped the creative process, but may not enhance focused thinking, it boosts working memory as another study out of Germany found.   So this means walking team meetings might be more useful when the team needs to brainstorm versus coming up with a plan for implementation.   However, I feel walking meetings are great for the health and mood boosting benefits, regardless.

Yet walking meetings are not necessarily viewed as “work,” inside of many nonprofits or other offices.  According to a recent New York Times blog post, another recent study has found  that even a lunchtime stroll can immediately improve your ability to handle stress at work.   The study compared two different groups – those who took a 30 minute walk during lunch time and those that did not walk.  The walkers were more positive and enthusiastic at work which is very important to productivity.    Even though the study volunteers had positive results, many stopped taking walks after the study was completed. The reason?  They were expected by management to work through lunch, suggesting for more education about how the downside of and how to transform a culture of sitting.

Walking meetings aren’t right for all situations.   Walking meetings are  typically much more difficult for larger group sizes. It is, however, the go-to suggestion for one-on-one meetings, status updates, brainstorming sessions and more informal gatherings of small groups

Nancy White recently shared this excellent post about making meetings more productive by Brad Feld.  The point of the article was not to think of meetings in one-hour increments and that you probably can make them much shorter.  He also discussed some great strategies for walking meetings and managing your time:

If I have a longer, more thoughtful discussion I want to have with someone, I go for a walk. I have four routes around downtown Boulder – 15, 30, 45, and 60 minute walks. All of these walks have the same loop so even when I schedule for a 60 minute walk, I have an easy way to turn it into a 30 minute walk if it’s clear that’s all it’s going to take. Or, if I’m into the first 15 minutes and realize it needs to be an hour, I just extend to the 30 minute segment. My worst case on a walk that goes too long is that I get some steps for my daily Fitbit habit.

If you are ready to put your walking shoes on at work and host your first walking meeting with another colleague or a small group, here’s some additional good tips.

  • Use a park or outdoor setting whenever possible.
  • Try holding walking meetings in the afternoon, when employees’ energy levels are lowest. The fresh air will revive them!
  • Avoid noisy roads or crowded areas.
  • If the group size of is six or more, participants will likely have to deal with multiple side conversations. This is fine for brainstorming or problem solving, but they need to stop and gather back up as a group to keep the meeting productive. Plan a route with some good stopping points.
  • Plan indoor meetings in the office space in the event of bad weather.
  • Set a goal for walking meetings each week. Suggest replacing weekly status updates with supervisors with a walking meeting and build up to more frequent strolls.
  • Track your steps with a fitbit or other wearable device.  You’ll be amaze to see how much additional physical activity you will get just by having a few walking meetings a week!
  • Suggest that workers wear comfortable shoes to work or keep a pair at their desk for impromptu meetings.
  • Plot out a few walking routes that work out to the typical length of company meetings. Consider paths that take 15, 30 and 60 minutes to complete.
  • If the staff spends a lot of time on the phone, suggest that employees forward calls to their cell and use that verbal meeting time to pace/walk around instead of sitting at their desks.
  • As with any meeting, facilitators should still send out a formal agenda to keep everyone on track.
  • If it seems beneficial, suggest participants take a digital recorder (or just use an iPhone app) to tape the meeting.

Whether you stand or use a walk to get way from your desk, or are successful in having walking meetings become a part of your nonprofit’s culture, take that first baby step today and break your sitting habit.  Is your nonprofit losing out on productivity and creativity because it is bound by a culture of sitting?  How do you put more walking or standing into your work day?


3 Responses

  1. […] you first start with your health in order for all these goals and assignments to get completed. As Beth’s Blog post explains, we work in a “culture of sitting”. Many people think sitting is good for […]

  2. […] been incorporating sitting, standing, and walking into my work and doing sessions at nonprofit conferences about walking as work. … Read More […]

  3. […] presentation was about walking meetings.  GuideStar has a history of doing walking meetings, especially one on ones and at its […]

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