To Stand Or Not To Stand? That Is The Question

It’s usually not a simple yes or no answer. There is much excitement around sit stand desk options. The desks have become quite popular and are perceived by many as the magic bullet to prevent prolonged sitting and address discomforts while working at computers. Sit stand desks certainly can provide magic relief for some employees – instantly reducing or eliminating discomfort, but we have also witnessed the opposite effect as well – increased – and worse, additional – musculoskeletal stress and strain.

There are a few considerations to ensure proper use of both the sitting and standing options to get the most benefit. There has been much discussion about the harmful health consequences from sitting too long; however, standing for long periods also has harmful health consequences. Whether sitting or standing, following basic ergonomic principles are necessary to ensure health, comfort, and productivity.

That said, there are a few ‘cons’ to sit stand desks.

  • First, although the price has dropped based on less expensive options, depending on the number of employees sit stand desks can still be a significant investment.
  • Second, the cost needs to be weighed against actual use since there are questions about behavior sustainability. Findings indicate that most employees stop using the standing desk 6 months or less from installation – similar to joining a gym in January and stopping by March.
  • Third, for some, productivity can actually be lower.
  • The last con is that often discomfort increases and actual musculoskeletal complaints are aggravated, because the desks are not correctly positioned.

The sit stand desk is a tool to reduce long-term sedentary behavior, but it is just one tool. The best option to counteract sedentary behavior is to move at least every hour, regardless of whether or not sit stand desks are available. Encouraging employees to move throughout the day reduces strains, increases circulation, reduces ‘brain fog’ and enhances productivity. For example, walking to the copier, scheduling walking meetings, and collaborating with others by going to them rather than emailing or texting.

However, there are also several pros to using sit stand desks, especially when used properly and for short periods throughout the day. In fact, recent research (Gregory Garrett, Texas A & M University) indicates that it is the transition from sitting to standing that results in the most benefits, including:

  • Increased cognitive function similar to participating in physical activities. And employees don’t have to stand long for cognitive arousal to occur – it’s the transition that matters.
  • Reduced discomforts when positioned correctly; again, it’s the transition that enhances comfort.
  • Enhanced productivity for most – and it can be quite significant.

Although recommendations have been to stand for approximately half the time as sitting (example, 4 hours standing for every 4 hours of sitting); or a 2:1 ratio – stand for one hour for every 2 hours of sitting, the recent research mentioned earlier found that transitioning from sitting to standing and back results in the most benefit. The study found that transitioning positions from sitting to standing every 30 minutes or so, and then standing for 6 minutes or longer before sitting again provide the most benefits. These continual transitions throughout the day are what increase comfort, productivity, and cognitive arousal.

Below are 6 tips for ensuring that employees are getting the most benefit from their sit stand desks:

  1. Provide foot rails to increase comfort – either a stool, footrest, box, or rail to rest one foot on and then frequently change positions to rest the other foot. Resting one foot at a time takes pressure off the lower back.
  2. Prompt behavior for actually using the sit stand option to ensure that employees are using the tool and frequently transitioning from sitting to standing and standing to sitting. There are free prompts available.
  3. Consider purchasing anti-fatigue mats for complaints of foot or leg discomfort.
  4. Educate employees on correctly setting up their work area – whether sitting or standing. Adjustments may be needed when transitioning positions. We often find desks are positioned all the way up when standing and all the way down when seated without considering correct (neutral) posture.
  5. Encourage frequent ‘mini’ breaks throughout the day since doing so results in the most benefits.
  6. Ensure that the appropriate sit stand option is considered as well as any other equipment that may be needed.

The bottom line is that there is no magic bullet. Incorrectly used – or not used at all – sit stand desks can have negative health and productivity consequences. The greatest benefit of sit stand desk options result from the transitions – changing from sitting to standing and standing to sitting often throughout the day – it’s the transitions that matter!

Contact us if you have any questions. Dimensions has trained and certified staff in office ergonomics as well as lab and manufacturing settings. We are happy to discuss your issues and assist as needed.

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