Why taking the office stairs can give you a lift
Taking the stairs is usually the corporate equivalent of going behind the bike shed
“If companies really want to get people using the stairs, something stronger than nannying is called for – like putting half the lifts out of service, forcing the able-bodied to walk.” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
As a child I lived in a narrow house with five floors. Half my youth was spent running up and down the staircase and I have been a devoted stair-climber ever since.
The only place where I never take the stairs – unless I’m going only one floor – is in the office. You could say this is because I’m too busy climbing a virtual ladder to have any strength left for an actual one, but actually it is because the long hours sitting still in front of a screen sap my desire to expend any energy at all.
Yet a couple of weeks ago, encouraged by a friend, I started walking up the 80 stairs to the office canteen, making the journey several times a day in search of coffee, Maltesers and Diet Cokes.
I have been rewarded for this in various ways. First, it is usually quicker: 55 seconds compared with about 70 in the lift, assuming a couple of stops on the way. Second, it leaves you feeling agreeably smug. Third, it is a less stressful way of having chance encounters with colleagues. In the lift you are forced into a strained exchange, while on the stairs you smile and keep moving. Most important of all, it drags you out of your torpor.
Here, at last, is something that is good for you but that has none of the drawbacks of most healthy things. It doesn’t taste bad, or require special clothing; it isn’t inconvenient, expensive or boring; and it doesn’t require any skill or courage.
Yet despite these impressive advantages, stairs in offices are usually empty of walkers. Instead, they are mainly used as a hiding place, a corporate equivalent of going behind the bike shed, a place for phoning your bank, shouting at your builder or exchanging top-secret gossip.
Last week, an initiative backed by the UK government was launched, designed to get everyone taking to the stairs. On its website are posters that can be downloaded telling staff how many calories they would burn if they avoided the lift, as well as a phone app that makes stair-climbing into a kind of computer game.
Even as an evangelical convert to office stair-walking, I’m not so sure. For a start the name – StepJockey – is all wrong. A jockey is someone who rides, while the point about a stair-walker is that they do not. And it is far too gimmicky for something as simple as getting from one floor to another in the way that God intended.