Ensuring the health and wellbeing of our workforce is an integral part of Johnson Matthey’s Sustainability 2017 Vision and at our Redwitz facility active breaks are contributing to this...


Ensuring the health and wellbeing of our workforce is an integral part of Johnson Matthey's Sustainability 2017 Vision. Employees, often through their commitment to the job in hand, may put physical pressure on themselves at work. Nowhere is this more of a risk than on the factory floor where poor posture, the need to maintain a certain position, repetitive tasks and incorrect lifting can lead to musculoskeletal problems. All this may result in back pain, shoulder and hip problems, and other disorders and discomfort.

Active Breaks Involve Beneficial Exercise Routines

To counter these problems, the Johnson Matthey site at Redwitz, Germany has introduced regular 'active breaks' for employees. During the breaks, employees do exercises to move different parts of the body, strengthen areas that are under pressure and stretch the spine and joints. The exercises promote good blood circulation and keep the joints working smoothly. The training is increasing individual mobility and preventing the build up of tension and pain. Employees are finding they are more aware of their own bodies.

At the start of the programme, external experts demonstrated the exercises. They led the active breaks over a period of five weeks, taking employees through the purpose of each exercise. During this time, suitable employees were selected to become trainers themselves, in order to achieve a multiplier effect. Those selected received separate training and were given background material so that they were equipped to train others.

An active break of seven minutes takes place once every shift – there are morning and afternoon shifts – in the vicinity of the shopfloor. Employees are divided into groups of 10 to 15 people. In good weather, the breaks take place outdoors.

Enjoyable, Social and Great for Employee Wellbeing

If this sounds unbearably regimented, the reality is very different. This is because employees are finding the active breaks an enjoyable social occasion. It is a time to put aside any stress and chat to colleagues. It is also a democratic experience, where managers join in and the active breaks see line managers, supervisors and heads of department taking part alongside other employees.

All in all, the breaks are strengthening the sense of belonging and improving morale. A survey capturing employees' responses to the active breaks showed that more than half of the respondents felt that their musculoskeletal complaints had improved (20% of employees indicated a 'strong' improvement) and most employees detected an enhanced sense of wellbeing. Asked if they wanted the active breaks to continue, many of the respondents said yes.

Active breaks are being introduced across the entire site, both in shopfloor and office areas. The initiative has been well received and there is a wider understanding that physical activity is enjoyable, mood enhancing and conducive to productivity – elements important to a sustainable workforce. Colleagues in areas not yet reached by the programme are eager to get involved – an indication of the positive response to active breaks.