Approaches to Changing Behaviours: Designing an Intervention to Reduce Sedentary Behaviour in the Workplace using Behaviour Change Theory
HE Sport, University Centre Hartpury, UK
Submission: May 21, 2018; Published: May 29, 2018
*Corresponding author: Matt Coldrey, Lecturer, HE Sport, University Centre Hartpury, Gloucester, UK, Tel: +44 1452 702481;
How to cite this article: Matt Coldrey. Approaches to Changing Behaviours: Designing an Intervention to Reduce Sedentary Behaviour in the Workplace using Behaviour Change Theory. J Phy Fit Treatment & Sports .2018; 4(2): 555635. DOI:10.19080/JPFMTS.2018.04.555635
The aim of this article is to present a specific example of the application of the use of behaviour change theory to design workplace physical activity interventions, and to provide a conceptual guide for workplaces to follow. As a part of a wider National Health Service Clinical Commissioning Group initiative to improve the overall health and wellbeing of the county’s workforce, a County Sports Partnership were commissioned to design and implement an intervention to increase the physical activity levels of employees within the workplace.
The intervention was designed using a behaviour change approach, drawing upon the COM-B (Capability, Opportunity and Motivation equals’ behaviour) model. Workplace needs were analysed, focusing on the three areas of business need, workplace environment and employee need. These needs were then analysed, and using a policy approach, workplaces designed long-term action plans to shift the sedentary behaviours identified via the needs analysis, through a range of bespoke measures.
The workplace is an ideal setting for the promotion of physical activity, with the potential to develop the mutually beneficial aim of raising employees’ physical activity levels. The link between individuals’ physical activity levels and health and wellbeing are well documented . Physical activity is linked to improved physical health with the reduced risk of chronic disease (e.g. cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, depression and osteoporosis), increased physical fitness and strength, and increased energy levels . In fact, any breaks from sedentary time are beneficial to weight control and reducing obesity . Furthermore, physical activity is also linked with improved mental health with the reduction of stress, serotonin release that alleviates depression and anxiety symptoms, as well as improving mood and self-esteem . Physical activity sessions lead to feelings of lowered tension and exhilaration meaning that exercise could be an effective short-term strategy for self-regulation of mood.
Overall, ill health is estimated by the UK government to cost over the UK economy £100 billion each year, and equates to 172 million sick days. That translates to a combined cost of £13 billion to employers. In addition to the costs of absenteeism, 6 million workers claim to have a long-standing health condition, leading
to a rise in the presenteeism and leavism, which Professor Cray Cooper argues costs twice that of absenteeism . Therefore, by actively encouraging and supporting employees to increase their physical activity levels, employers stand to benefit by combating the additional costs that unhealthy employees present. With increased physical activity levels leading to a reduction in both physical and mental health issues, it is in employers’ interests to actively promote and investing in their employees’ physical activity levels. In fact, when an employer is seen to be actively looking out for its employee’s health and wellbeing, it has better retention rates than those who do not . Staff turnover is another expense to businesses, with the costs of recruitment and training, and with it taking up to 32 weeks for new employees to reach peak performance .
In addition to the health benefits of increased physical activity levels, it also affects creative thought, improved memory and increased cognitive performance . Physical activity also has a positive influence on coping skills, and tolerating minor irritations. The benefits of increased physical activity on both employee and employer build a picture that communicates the importance of employers actively encouraging and championing increasing physical activity levels within its employees. Furthermore, a comparative study between days when employees exercised and no-exercise days showed that employees reported
increased workplace performance however, the same employees
reported that they sometimes found it difficult to organise their
working days to include physical activity.
The traditional models of production, for example, the Six
Sigma and Toyota Production System, operate under the Kaizen
philosophic assumption that increased hours working lead
to increased productivity, despite there being no empirical
evidence supporting this notion [9-11]. However, research does
suggest that taking regular breaks, especially when they include
physical activity, increases productivity by increasing the pace
of work during shorter periods by increasing focus, assisting
with the formulation of ideas and retention of information, and
helping with the revaluation of goals [12,13]. Therefore, the
integration of breaks and physical activity into the working day
is also an important consideration for employers.
The intervention was designed using a behaviour change
approach, drawing upon the COM-B (Capability, Opportunity
and Motivation equals’ behaviour) model and Behaviour Change
Wheel (BCW). Workplace needs were analysed, focusing on
the three areas of business need, workplace environment and
employee need. These needs were then analysed, and using a
policy approach, workplaces designed long-term action plans to
shift the sedentary behaviours identified via the needs analysis,
through a range of bespoke measures.
The COM-B model is a behavioural analysis and diagnosis
tool, designed to understand the behaviours of individuals,
within the context in which the behaviours take place . Once
understood, interventions can be designed using the behaviour
change wheel, a synthesis of nineteen frameworks to organise
interventions . The Behaviour Change Wheel places the
COM-B model within the centre, with nine intervention functions
placed within the inner ring, and seven policy categories on the
outer ring. Therefore, when designing a specific model for using
within workplaces, it is important to consider what workplaces
can control. The policy considerations are dealt with external
agencies, and therefore, for specific workplace intervention
design, these categories only play a contextual role. As a result,
this piece will focus upon designing a model for increasing
employee physical activity levels with the use of the COM-B
model and nine intervention functions .
Workplace needs were assessed, focusing on the three areas
of business need, workplace environment and employee need.
These needs were then analysed, and using a policy approach,
workplaces designed long-term action plans to shift the sedentary
behaviours identified via the needs analysis, through a range
of bespoke measures. The approach targeted the employees’
capability, opportunity and motivation, this approach sought to
offer a holistic approach to shifting behaviours. Capability was
targeted through the education of employees, showing them
that they could increase their physical activity levels at work by
doing simple and achievable activities that were both modelled.
Activities were also drawn from the participants themselves
during the training. By providing staff with simple and achievable
activities to do and by providing them with the option stand up
whilst they worked by installing sit-down/stand-up desks, staff
were given the opportunity to increase their physical activity
levels, whilst not taking up their valuable time. The employees’
motivation was targeted by educating them on the impact on
their work performance, physical health, and mental wellbeing
[17,18] (Figure 1).
The nine intervention functions that make up the overall
intervention design offer a holistic approach to shifting
behaviours of employees. The use of these nine intervention
functions should be informed by the capabilities, motivations of,
and opportunities available to, the target population. Also being
considered is the context of the workplace itself, and the overall
aims of the intervention. The BCW framework takes into account
the context of the intervention naturally through these three
influencing factors upon the behaviour of individuals. Therefore,
it is essential that the intervention design is fully informed by
these three factors. It is proposed that a business needs analysis,
physical and environmental scan, and an employee needs
analysis is undertaken to inform the design of the intervention.
Then, it is proposed that each of the nine intervention functions
are considered in relation to the findings of these scans and
analysis. Examples of each of the nine intervention functions are
Give positive role models exposure to encourage employees
to emulate positive behaviours. Ensure that these role models
are relatable and realistic for a range of employees (i.e. a super
keen marathon runner will not interest individuals who have not
been for a run in years).
a) Encourage staff to blog about their physical activity
journey, or share blogs from individuals who are relatable to
b) Place a sitting agenda item on team meetings for staff
to share what physical activity they are been doing. Enable
staff to ask questions and discuss this (be careful to get a
mixture of already actives, sporadically active and inactive
c) Create a bring-a-buddy scheme, where employees
share what physical activity they are doing, and invite their
colleagues along to try. This can be done as a team-building
activity, but ensure that you do not force employees to take
part in activities they do not want to.
d) Invite inspirational speakers to talk to staff about their
journey from inactive, to physically active.
Enable employees to learn about physical activity and the
way in which it can positively impact upon their physical and
mental wellbeing. Example actions:
a) Offer staff development/education that looks at
educating staff on the benefits of being physically active on
the health and wellbeing, as well as their work performance
and productivity, and looks at how they can increase their
physical activity levels.
b) Provide digital resources that inform employees via
email, intranet sites and social media.
c) Display posters around the worksite at key areas such
as by the kettle, next to lift doors, and on the back of toilet
doors that encourage employees to make informed decisions
about their own health and wellbeing.
d) Talk about the benefits of physical activity during team
meetings, and ask employees to talk research and talk about
e) Display screen savers that remind and educate
employees on the benefits of physical activity, and how they
can integrate it into their day.
Using punishments to control the behaviours of employees,
but be careful to ensure that coercion is only used if employees
have suggested a need and want to be coerced into shifting their
behaviours. Top-down coercion can lead to disengagement,
demotivation and resentment. Example actions:
a) Punish employees if meetings overrun by not allowing
them to book the meeting room again for a week.
b) Punish employees who sit for over an hour without
moving by not allowing them to use the staff car park for a
c) Ban employees from using toilets that are on the same
floor as their workstation.
a) Remind employees of the need to be physically active
throughout the day if you notice sedentary behaviour.
b) Integrate physical activity advice into your return-towork
c) Identify issues that employees face that physical
activity can help to target (i.e. productivity, mental wellbeing,
drowsiness, high levels of minor and mental illness) and
target these by reminding employees that physical activity
can help to address these issues.
This article sets out a blueprint for the design of workplace
physical activity interventions with the long term aims of shifting
employee behaviours with regard to physical activity. Within the
UK, there is an evident need for increasing the physical activity
levels of individuals within the work place for the benefit of,
not only individual workplaces, but also for the wider economy
and health of the nation. A range of environmental, personal,
and contextual factors influence the physical activity levels of
employees, and by understanding and targeting specific areas,
it is proposed that this blueprint will enable workplaces to
design and implement effective interventions that will lead to
positive health and productivity outcomes. However, this is just
a blueprint based upon conceptual knowledge, and empirical
research will be required to ascertain the effectiveness of the