The technology that is used in modern workplaces has changed, allowing the workforce to rethink how and where work is completed. With the rise of co-working spaces and the ability to hold an office in the palm of your hand, we have shifted the workplace out of the traditional office. By doing so, however, we have also increased the frequency of musculoskeletal injuries, including “texting thumb” and “text neck,” caused by the impact of our new technology on our bodies.
Along with the increases of different types of workplace injuries, the term “sitting disease” began to emerge around the year 2010. Since the 1950s, the amount of time that people sit each day has progressively increased, mainly due to transportation, communications, the reduction of manual labour and the use of computers. By increasing the amount of time an individual sits each day, the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death also rise as muscular strength falls. Even if a person lives a healthy, active lifestyle, the more that they sit in one location, the greater the risks to their health.
To combat the epidemic of sitting for too long within the office environment, workplace designers have been looking at new options to help increase activity within the workplace. This includes changing the functional layout of the office to include different types of meeting locations, such as lounge chairs or coffee bars, as well as the rise of the sit-to-stand and standing workstation.
The purpose of the standing workstation is to potentially reduce the negative effects of sitting all day in a static position. These standing workstations provide many different benefits to the user, including the ability to shift and move their body while on the computer, and allows the opportunity for two or more people to meet at a standing workstation to collaborate and share information.
With the increases in standing workstations in the office environment, a recent study (Finch et al.) explored whether standing desks increased task performance and employee engagement. The study recruited participants to complete a series of reading and creativity tasks while both sitting at a computer workstation and standing using a sit-to-stand workstation.
Researchers found that body position (sitting or standing) did not affect reading comprehension or creative tasks and participants did not experience any difference in satisfaction when completing tasks while either sitting or standing. However, the study found that participants experienced greater engagement in the tasks they were completing while standing, which was measured by their reported interest, enthusiasm and alertness. However, participants reported more discomfort standing than sitting.
Based on this study and others examining the performance benefits of sit-to-stand workstations, neither only sitting nor only standing is the right answer. To truly improve performance, employees require a blend of both. When employees are provided with a sit-to-stand workstation, they have the option to use both settings, which other studies have found increases caloric expenditure and blood flow while reducing the amount of sitting time and musculoskeletal discomfort, fatigue and stiffness.
One of the biggest benefits of being able to choose whether to sit or stand is the psychological impacts on employee engagement. Sit-to-stand workstations provide employees with the choice of how they want to complete their work, which ultimately increases employee engagement, job satisfaction and performance. In addition, by providing employees with this choice, it demonstrates that the organization considers the importance of employees’ needs and health in the workplace. This contribution to improving the well-being of the workforce helps improve the overall employee performance.
There are many different opportunities to boost organizational performance and the use of sit-to-stand workstations is one such method. The most important opportunity is through a leadership commitment to health, safety and employee well-being in the workplace. Focusing on the needs of each employee provides the greatest benefits to workplace performance and injury reduction.
Reference: Finch, L.E., Tomiyama, A.J., & Ward, A. (2017). Taking a stand: The effects of standing desks on task performance and engagement. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 14(8): 939. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/14/8/939/pdf.
Aaron Miller is a Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomist (CCPE) and an ergonomic consultant based in Kelowna, B.C. He can be reached at email@example.com.