Physical activity in paid work time for desk-based employees: a qualitative study of employers' and employees' perspectives

Gemma C Ryde, Patricia Atkinson, Martine Stead, Trish Gorely, Josie M M Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
92 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Poor physical and mental health of employees create significant problems in the workplace. Physical activity (PA) has been shown as an effective strategy for preventing and treating numerous physical and mental health issues as well as work performance outcomes. However, there are many barriers to taking part in PA (such as lack of time) with participation rates typically low. Providing PA in paid work time might be a way to overcome these issues, yet employers' and employees' opinions of this concept are unknown. The aim of this study was to explore employee and employer perspectives of PA in paid work time.

METHODS: Workplaces were recruited through existing contacts on the research team. Focus groups and interviews were conducted with employees and managers at one University and two executive non-departmental public bodies in central Scotland with mainly desk-based employees. Both managers and employees were involved to gain perspectives throughout the organisational hierarchy and were interviewed separately to reduce social desirability bias. All discussions were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data were analysed thematically for both managers and employees but due to significant overlap in themes between the groups, these are reported together in the results.

RESULTS: Three out of five organisations approached took part in this qualitative study. Two individual interviews were held with strategic managers, five focus groups with middle managers (n = 16) and nine with employees (n = 45). Benefits were anticipated by managers and employees for both employees themselves and the organisation and included improved mental health, productivity and more favourable perceptions of the employer. Despite these widely acknowledged benefits, significant barriers were identified and included the structure and nature of the working day (high workload, front line job requirements), workplace culture and norms (resentment from colleagues, no break culture) and organisational concerns (cost of lost time, public perceptions).

CONCLUSION: This study suggests that there are significant barriers to PA in paid work time. Whilst numerous anticipated benefits were conveyed by both employees and managers, PA in paid work time is unlikely to become common place until changes in attitudes and the culture towards movement at work occur.

Original languageEnglish
Article number460 (2020)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2020


  • Qualitative
  • Workplace
  • Physical activity
  • Paid work time


Dive into the research topics of 'Physical activity in paid work time for desk-based employees: a qualitative study of employers' and employees' perspectives'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this