How to Improve the ROI on Sit-Stand desks

We’ve written other articles about sit-stand or alternative workstations. You can check them out here (in no particular order):

Pros (2)

We’ve written extensively in the past about the ergonomic risk associated with prolonged sitting (or standing). If you are new to this blog, here’s a short excerpt to the negative health consequences associated with sedentary behaviours:

Prolonged and uninterrupted sedentary behaviours are at a higher risk for adverse health outcomes including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality.

Whoa, heavy stuff right? To add some value to the situation, the research that this post is based on looked at the overall experience of employees in a workplace intervention involving the introduction of sit-stand desks. This was to find out what worked well (and what didn’t) so we can squeeze as much value as possible out of the research to ensure our employees actually use these expensive sit-stand desks. The worst outcome of purchasing sit-stand desks is that no one uses them. Have you ever been apart of an unsuccessful sit-stand desk implementation? As a consultant I have seen my fair share. Not only is outfitting an entire office incredibly expensive, but it doesn’t exactly lead to positive morale/working environment amongst staff if the initiative falls flat. So, it is incredibly important to me to provide you value on how to improve its return-on-investment.

This research found an extremely high level of reported satisfaction with the sit-stand desks and 96% of them chose to use them permanently. Talk about encouraging results! Additionally, a greater energy and alertness level at work was reported (although no actually productivity improvements were found). There was no perception of decreased productivity or reduced workplace privacy, which is always good to lay the foundation for a successful initiative.

Additional less obvious, yet interesting results associated with successful sit-stand desk initiatives:

  • Increased level of energy, focus, alertness (74% of people).
  • Increase in social energy (buzz) in the workplace (59% of people) by increasing the communication amongst colleagues.
  • Alleviation of back pain for some (19%).
  • 37% reported some soreness (in the lower back, legs, feet, and overall general fatigue) for the first 2 weeks but discomfort gradually dissipated. This is attributed to reducing the amount of sedentary activity and also flags the need to educate staff about safe standing practices and a gradual incorporation of standing. More on this in the next section.
  • Sit-stand desks led to a heightened awareness of posture, ergonomics and frequent postural adjustments, which encouraged employees them to move around more frequently.
  • Noise level from using the mechanism to raise and lower the desk was considered to not be disruptive.

Pros (2)

PRO-TIP: In order to get a solid return-on-investment, the majority of employees really need to have bought into this process.

Based on this research, here are some suggestions to help facilitate switching from a sitting only desk to a sit-stand workstation:

  • Before bringing in the sit-stand desks, be sure to create a buzz in the office. There are so many ways to do this – presentations, emails, one-on-one chats, posters, and announcements, just to name a few. This can go a long way in creating awareness with employees on the health benefits related to reducing sedentary behaviours. And, if employees are excited before the new units are brought in, they will be literally chomping at the bit for their arrival. Trust me, I know this from experience! I have had the opportunity to consult in organizations that took the time to inform and educate their employees and I’ve also been able to consult to other organizations that just decided to bring in sit-stand units one day without informing employees. Can you guess which environment was more conducive to a better return-on-investment? Of course, it was the organization that took the time to educate staff beforehand!
  • Everyone should be using sit-stand desks, if they have them. This is especially true for management and supervisors. These representatives are seen as leaders within the organization, so it is incredibly important to have their buy-in to the new initiative to reinforce the perception of support for workplace change.
  • Ensure that employees know how to optimally set-up their sit-stand desks in both the standing and sitting positions. Ergonomic assessments from either an in-house expert or a consultant can be valuable. There are a couple of methods to put this in place:
    • Group presentation delivered to all staff on how to set-up their workstations. This should then be immediately followed up with very quick ergonomic assessments to make sure everything is ergonomically correct.
    • One-on-one ergonomic assessments where each staff member would receive a full assessment. This would be more of a cost between these 2 options.
  • Employees should also be made aware that there could be a bit of an adjustment period when getting used to the new sit-stand set-up and they may feel some slight discomfort or fatigue for the first couple of weeks. For this reason, it is recommended that employees gradually increase the amount of standing time over a period of time.
  • Lastly, but maybe most importantly, staff should be informed about the risks associated with prolonged standing! The strategy that I commonly refer to when talking about safe standing durations is with the Prolonged Standing Strain Index. It classifies exposure into one of three zones:
    • The ‘Safe’ Category (lowest ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for less than 1 hour AND for a maximum of 4 hours total throughout their shift.
    • The ‘Slightly Unsafe’ Category (moderate ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour OR more than 4 hours total throughout their shift.
    • The ‘Unsafe’ Category (highest ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour AND more than 4 hours total throughout their shift.

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Source 

Dutta, N., Walton, T. & Pereira, M. (2015). Experience of switching from a traditional sitting workstation to a sit-stand workstation in sedentary office work. Work. 52, 83-89.

Through the administration of countless assessments in both private and public sectors, Darcie has gained a wealth of knowledge and built a successful practice in the field of ergonomics. She has extensive expertise in conducting office ergonomics assessments in large scale workplaces for all different types of scenarios, from simple adjustments to incredibly complex cases. Darcie also has vast experience in delivering training presentations on the various aspects of ergonomics “best practices” in the workplace. Darcie is a Certified Professional Ergonomist through the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics, as recognized by the International Ergonomics Association. She also has a Masters of Science, specializing in ergonomics. A little known fact about Darcie is that she once scored from half, off a free kick, in a university varsity soccer (football) match!

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