“In Initiative Overload”: Australian Perspectives on Promoting Physical Activity in the Workplace from Diverse Industries

Josephine Y. Chau*, Lina Engelen, Tracy Kolbe-Alexander, Sarah Young, Heidi Olsen, Nicholas Gilson, Nicola W. Burton, Adrian E. Bauman, Wendy J. Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


Introduction: With two thirds of adults in paid employment and one third physically inactive, workplaces are an important setting for promoting more physical activity. We explored the attitudes and practices of employees and managers from different industries towards sitting and moving at work, to inform the development of acceptable solutions for encouraging businesses to adopt activity-promoting workplaces.

Method: We conducted focus groups with employees and structured interviews with upper/middle managers from 12 organisations in a range of industries (e.g., education, healthcare, manufacturing, construction, insurance, mining). Topics focused on past and current workplace health and wellness initiatives, workplace culture and environment related to physical activity, responsibility for employee physical activity patterns at work, and enablers of/barriers to activity promoting workplaces. 

Results: Physical activity was not an explicit priority in existing occupational health and wellness initiatives. Instead, there was a strong focus on education about preventing and managing injuries, such as manual handling among non-office workers and desk-based ergonomics for office workers. Physical activity was viewed as a strategy for maintaining work ability and preventing injury, particularly in blue-collar staff, rather than for chronic disease prevention. Managers noted structural/organisational barriers/enablers to promoting physical activity at work (e.g., regulations, costs, competing concerns), while employees tended to focus on individual constraints such as time and geographic location. The issues of "initiative overload" and making physical activity a part of “business as usual” emerged as strong themes from employees and managers. 

Conclusions: While there is stakeholder enthusiasm for creating activity-promoting workplaces, multi-level support is needed to make physical activity an integral part of day-to-day business. The synergism between occupational health and safety priorities could be leveraged to facilitate the creation of activity-promoting workplaces.

Original languageEnglish
Article number516
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes


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