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  1. 1

    Smith Jamie

    I hope that Mr. Harper continues to monitor this discussion. I hope to provide some unfiltered feedback regarding the implementation of healthy workplace practices at the Cancer Council, and provide a general case study of organizational pitfalls in implementation.

    Some background: I have a close personal friend who works at the Cancer Council of Victoria and who has some relatively minor health complaints which she attributes to sedentary office work. For some period of time she has petitioned for access to a standing desk, but was (as it was explained to me) rebuffed, initially on the basis of cost and OHS protocols, then on the grounds that a workplace trial would be initiated in the future, and now because there is a workplace trial and she was not selected to participate. To date, despite specifically requesting a standing desk, she has no access to one. Makeshift efforts to create a standing environment (placing a keyboard on boxes, etc…) were strongly discouraged/forbidden by OHS staff, though it was not clear what authority they possess. She’s not very confrontational and thus continues to sit.

    I bring this up because I’ve been hearing stories over coffee over the past couple of years regarding this exact issue at the Cancer Council. For a while, the general tone was one of frustration, more recently discussion of this matter has included resentment, as co-workers receive standing desks, and high level staff in the organization tell wonderful stories about a standing office environment in private meetings and as is the case here, in public forums.

    The net result of this is a degree of alienation. Efforts to create a health promoting workplace culture can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy, and heighten the class disparities within an organization. Recent newspaper reports ( extol ‘cycling as the new golf’, a relatively high cost, high prestige activity for upper middle class middle aged male executives. The CC is a very pro-cycle organization, including public advocacy and sponsorship, and frequent testimonials in staff meetings as to the merits of a long weekend group ride with fit and fabulous people.

    Cycling doesn’t need to be expensive, but then again, neither does golf. However, I think most would recognize that invoking fine weekend experiences playing Melbourne’s prestigious sandbelt courses might be seen as ‘promoting healthy behaviour’, but is alienating and ham-handed. Likewise, allowing a choice for a standing workplace environment need not emphasize disparities in workplace power, but certainly does when middle management rebuffs efforts by frontline staff to access same the health-promoting environment that senior staff speaks so positively about. I’ll be forwarding your article to my friend, and I don’t think she’ll be that happy about it.

    Of course this entire discussion assumes that workers are ‘office based’, and are high enough within the CC hierarchy to be invited to staff meetings and seminars in order to have their relative insufficiency pointed out, whether they be office managers, young researchers, fundraisers, or marketing staff. While janitors, tradesmen, and retail staff may not have ‘sitting’ issues, they may be expected to suffer from variety of socioeconomic and occupational risk factors for disease. I hope that the Cancer Council shows as much concern for their health as it does for those in the executive suite, and that moving forward, more emphasis is placed on workplace equity and creating an inclusive environment within the Cancer Council.

  2. 2

    Rebecca Cook

    Posted on behalf of Craig Sinclair, Director, Cancer Prevention Centre

    Thanks Jamie for your comment.

    As a member of the steering committee overseeing this trial at Cancer Council Victoria, I’d like to clarify some of your points.

    Firstly, the trial of these desks is being implemented organisation-wide, across a range of departments and at all levels of seniority.

    Secondly, the trial is not a therapeutic intervention – it is a behavioural change trial to investigate ways to reduce sedentary time in the workplace. For this reason to assess the validity of the trial it is important participants do not have any pre-existing medical conditions. Obviously anyone with an existing medical condition relating to their work should be properly assessed so that we can assist them.

    Thirdly, we’ve implemented standing desks in three of our meeting rooms and are actively encouraging all staff to not only use them, but to leave their feedback on how they felt, so that we can monitor the impact on sedentary work practices.

    Finally, the trial of these desks is just that – a trial. We want our staff to feed back their experiences, including enablers and barriers to changing working styles over the trial. We welcome all feedback and to date, most of it has been very positive.

    Craig Sinclair
    Director, Cancer Prevention Centre, Cancer Council Vic


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