One of the predominant adverse health outcomes of sedentary work is an increased risk of musculoskeletal disorders. Cue the entrance of the sit-stand desks and alternative types of workstations.
Why are these types of workstations so popular? They offer a solution that reduces the duration of sitting while not negatively impacting a person’s productivity (more of the research findings below). In many cases there is anecdotal evidence or even documentation that productivity also improves with the use of these workstations. Today it seems like there is a limitless amount of options for alternative workstations set-ups everything from from treadmill desks to cycling workstations are now available and finally affordable.
This post is based off an extensive literature review by Karol and Robertson (2015). They looked at sit-stand and alternative types of workstations (for example treadmill desks) from a broad perspective to find notable conclusions about their impact on worker discomfort and productivity. Below are some of their most stand-out findings compiled from their research article:
- Most literature has reported a reduction in discomfort after using sit-stand workstations in comparison to conventional seated workstations.
- Specifically with bank tellers, alternating between sitting and standing resulted in less discomfort and was more preferred than sitting alone.
- In a field intervention study that looked at 10 office workers for a period of two weeks, a significant reduction in self reported discomfort in the back, neck, and shoulder regions were observed after the combination of ergonomic training and the implementation of sit-stand workstations.
- Some studies found that participants felt more energetic and less tired and there was also less foot swelling while working on sit-stand workstations.
- Physiologically measured arousal levels are significantly higher while standing, which could have very positive effects on productivity.
- Participants with sit-stand workstations chose to take fewer breaks and had better productivity after receiving ergonomics training.
- Significant improvements in productivity regarding the accuracy and quality of work in a group that received ergonomics training compared to the minimally trained group.
- Participants who were able to stand took fewer breaks and continued working while standing, which potentially results in improved productivity too.
- Another study indicated that there was an increase in self-reported productivity after 4-6 weeks of using the sit-stand workstations.
Alternative Workstations (cycle, treadmill, etc)
- For treadmill desks productivity is inversely proportional to speed: The faster that the user walks on the treadmill the more negative impact on their productivity.
- There seems to be an optimal range of speeds for walking and cycling workstations, but the exact ranges did not have any conclusive findings. Performance seemed to be reduced with biking and treadmill workstations but no significant differences between the productivity between sitting and standing was ever observed.
Purchasing sit-stand workstations is one thing. But getting the return on investment on your purchase is an entirely different beast. This is where training comes in. All the most successful research has indicated that training on sit-stand workstations is SO important. Why? Research proves that merely providing adjustable workstations does not necessarily prevent injuries. This is why a systematically designed ergonomics training process should be included in any organization’s implementation of sit-stand workstations.
Here are some suggestions on what to include:
- Ergonomics training (in general) provides computer users with ergonomics knowledge that they can apply to the set-up of their workstation when either sitting or standing. With so many potential changes throughout the workday, staff should really feel comfortable with ergonomic adjustments.
- Training should be practical in nature and include practice periods that teach and encourage employees how to use their sit-stand (or alternative) workstation.
- Additionally, the use of ergonomic reminders and work breaks are useful to encourage staff to not use prolonged postures (either sitting or standing) for too long.
- One last thing of note here: there are no generally agreed usage ratios for time spent between sitting and standing.
Karol, S. & Robertson, M. (2015). Implications of sit-stand and active workstations to counteract the adverse effects of sedentary work: A comprehensive review. Work, 52, 255-267.