Age Old Architectural Feature Could Save Companies Millions

September 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

In the land of Sweets

A few weeks ago I was teaching at the Kraft office in Zurich. It was a private German lesson and the topic for the 1.5 hour lesson was health, fitness and obesity. At one of the world’s largest food concerns known for their production of sweets and chocolates including Milka and Toblerone chocolate bars, this might seem like a touchy subject.

Walking into the modern office building I was greeted by the receptionist, who gave me a visitor’s badge and told me to help myself to coffee, hot chocolate and take candy from the large bowls containing small portions of Kraft’s most popular products. If you like sweets, this might be a company to work for.

The inside of the building is bright, spacious, and modern. I really like the feel of the building located in one of Zurich’s office districts. With so much food though you would expect to see quite a few employees with a few extra pounds, after all office work isn’t exactly known for its physical exertion. However, quite the opposite was true.

Not what I expected

As my student collected me I followed him to his office on the 4th floor. We moved towards the elevators and on the ground I noticed colourful footprints moving off to the side of the elevators. Before I knew it he was opening up a door and not pressing a button. On the door was a friendly sign reminding employees to try and use the stairs.

Corporate Social Responsibility

As our lesson commenced and we spoke about corporate responsibility regarding health, I asked what his company’s stand point was in regards to healthy living. I was assured that Kraft does everything possible to ensure that their foods met healthy living standards and while excess chocolate will never be healthy, the company does try to educate consumers about what is considered a healthy diet. Employees are encouraged to join the gym and to increase their walking time and distance with the help of a pedometer.

I commended him and Kraft though on what I consider to be one of the most effective, and efficient ways of promoting exercise or movement at work — the footprints on the ground leading to the stairs.

Where are the stairs?

Think about the last few office buildings and modern apartment blocks you’ve been in. Where were the stairs? Did you use them? Chances are that you didn’t. Why? Probably because they weren’t easy to find, looked dark and dreary, or were marked as an emergency exit. Yesterday I was in Zurich’s premier department store, Jelmoli, and despite all of the recent renovations and high end labels housed inside, the stairs are in an abysmal state. Nothing about them invites guests to take them. I understand that in shopping centers the stairs, escalators, and elevators are purposely placed at odd places to force visitors to walk around and be enticed to buy items they may not have sought out to buy, but that does not mean that staircases should be poorly kept.

Movement increases productivity

While it is true that in case of fire you should use the stairs, why is it that in modern architecture we’ve relegated them to that purpose alone? Often the stairs are the fastest way to go between floors – there’s no time wasted waiting for an elevator that will stop twice before getting you to the third floor. Furthermore, studies show that movement at work increases worker productivity. The notion of movement increasing productivity is something that I have noticed in my own students. Those who get up, or with whom I go running, learn faster. Increased blood flow means your brain functions better.

Kraft has joined the Global Corporate Challenge, a health and well-being event aimed at changing the behaviour and improving the health of employees around the world. Adding an element of competition adds another level of incentive for employees to stay active at work. Again here the costs of such a program are far lower than the cost of unhealthy employees, and possibly accounted for just in their increased productivity.

With employee health and the high costs surrounding ill, injured, and stressed employees, businesses need to be looking for simple ways of helping their employees live more active, healthy lives — taking the stairs is a very simple step in that direction. The investment when everything is accounted for is minimal, as it generally only requires that a few easy incentives such as clearly marking the location of the stairs and ensuring they are clean and well lit.

Using the stairs is one of  the easiest and cheapest ways to stay active and healthy and more companies need to promote such behavior.

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