Do Sit-Stand Desks Make Sense For Your Office?

Have you ever made a promise to yourself to do something so important, so life-changing, but overtime you’ve found dozens of reasons for you not to do it? If we can just be a bit honest with ourselves many (if not all!!) of us would be guilty of this. But, why? So often after the initial glow of the new habit fades most of us realize that we have to maintain this behaviour and this can take effort! This fact alone can be a barrier for many of us. This post is all about looking at leading indicators to mitigate this from happening  – but for sit-stand desks!

Sit-Stand Desks: Identifying Behaviours That Lead To Better Outcomes

TAKE SIT-STAND DESKS. These are an ultra cool and trendy way to incorporate less sedentary activity into our workday. Due to their hefty price tags many office managers want to make sure that they are actually used after they are purchased. Many view sit-stand desks as a shortcut to a healthier lifestyle. I agree that sit-stand desks reduce some of the perceived barriers associated with taking more breaks from sitting. Once this barrier is addressed the success of sit-stand desks boils down to the change in that person’s behaviour. And, just like any behaviour change the most difficult aspect is its maintenance since habits can still take effort to form. When I was in my corporate ergonomics job, I consistently found that sit-stand desks were always used the most when people had already bought into the idea, well before any sit-stand desk was ever purchased. These people were usually already quite active in their normal activities whether it be going for walks at lunch or taking part in other work wellness programs. Many times these people would have requested sit-stand desks to their managers for quite some time too. This example is in stark contrast to those who managers decide to retrofit an entire area without generating buy-in from employees. In these scenarios I would find that the sit-stand desks would be used once in a blue moon. As an office manager it would be extremely valuable to really understand if sit-stand desks will be used before they are purchased. Heck, it may save you from spending all that cash on something no one is really interested in the first place. Stand-up-desks

The key is to determine who is truly ready for the commitment that a sit-stand desk requires. I have a really good way to put sit-stand desk use into perspective: the same pro-health behaviours can be used with or without a sit-stand desk. The consistency and engagement would be the same but the tactics would be different. Those with no sit-stand desks would need to use savvy behaviours which won’t negatively impact workload or productivity. This framework forms the backbone of identifying behaviours that are aligned with long-term uptake of sit-stand desks. In the next section I’m going to explain how to do this.

5 Stages of Change Model

Research suggests that individuals attempting to change their physical activity behaviour move through a series of changes. A way to capture this is via the 5 Stages of Change Model (aka the Transtheortical Model). It’s a simple and useful approach to understand how and provide guidance about lasting behaviour change. With the 5 Stages of Change, the level of physical activity increases as individuals move to a higher stage of change. There’s a graphic and description of it below. As you read through each stage I’m sure that you will see where the opportunities to identify those who would consistently use a sit-stand desk are.  Note: The first stage is the pre-contemplation stage and each stage occurs one at a time. 

5 stages

Here’s How Each Stage Would Apply To A Sit-Stand Desk. 

  1. STAGE1: Pre-contemplation: The person has not yet acknowledged that there is a problem behaviour that needs to be changed. People in this stage would likely need to have more information about the health risks of prolonged sitting as well as the benefits of incorporating more standing into their schedules.
  2. STAGE 2: Contemplation: The person acknowledges that there is a problem but is not yet ready or sure of wanting to make a change. In this stage the person may need specific strategies on how to reduce long-term sitting work.
  3. STAGE 3: Preparation/Determination: The person is getting ready to change. Simple strategies to incorporate more standing in their day can be useful. Allowing staff to try a sit-stand desk either with a hot desk, a desk-mount unit, or simply boxes/text books stacked on top the desk can help here. Ensure that you show staff how to exactly set-up the workstation for standing (more on this in our free eBook that you can find here).
  4. STAGE 4: Action: The person is changing their behaviour. People in this stage may be the most willing to use a long-term sit-stand desk as they are actively engaging in less sedentary behaviour.
  5. STAGE 5: Maintenance: The person is maintaining the behaviour change. Similar to the Action stage, these people have bought into the idea that less sedentary work is valuable. New research about the benefits of less sedentary work is valuable to encourage the behaviour and motivate staff! 

STAGE 6: Relapse: This is where the person returns to older behaviours and abandoning the new changes.

The Survey: If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it!

Conversations with staff about their readiness combined with simple surveys can give you the necessary insight to make your decision. After all, as I discussed in this article, a sit-stand desk may not be necessary in all situations. A simple strategy would look like the graphic below.

SurveySurveying and engaging with staff allows you to measure and anticipate whether sit-stand desks would be considered valuable AND USED! You can download our sample survey to use with your staff (see below). Our sample survey asks 4 simple non-intrusive questions that target what stage of change staff are in. As you can see in our graphic above there would likely be 4 outcomes from the survey that would give you some sort of actionable step. If the results indicate that your staff would not be open to the behaviour change necessary to use sit-stand desks (at this time), then providing more information about the health risks associated with prolonged sitting as well as opportunities to work while standing (via a hot standing desk, a desk-mount unit, or simply boxes) would be incredibly valuable! Surveying your staff is key before bringing in an expensive solution. In my experience, many organizations neglect this step and as a result this usually puts a sour taste about any ergonomics or pro-health initiatives in general.

The Process

Here is a simple strategy that has worked for me in the past when you need to determine an area’s readiness for sit-stand desks:

  1. Survey staff prior to implementation to determine their engagement to use sit-stand desks. You can use our survey (see the download above)!
  2. Analyze the responses:
    • Anyone who fully bought in and is in either Stage 4 or 5 would be considered to be excellent candidates for sit-stand desks.
    • For those in Stages 1, 2, or 3 consider implementing an education session with information pertaining to the value of incorporating standing into their workday as well as strategies on how they could try some sort of sit-stand solution. If this is your only source of ‘wellness’ in your office, you may need to place awareness posters or other campaigns to demonstrate their usefulness and to remind staff that they are available to use. Interested in more information? Be sure to check out this post that gives some you some detailed information about what to look for in a sit-stand desk.
    • If you determine that there are enough people who show interest in trying sit-stand desks, investigate if a local vendor would lend you 1-2 sit-stand desks or even a desk mount system for trial. If there is a lot of interest during this ‘trial’ period, try using a waiting list or sign-up list.

 Other Value-Added Tips

1. Just like prolonged sitting, long-term standing is considered ergonomically risky. 

Research has shown that it can only take about 30 minutes of standing for indicators of lower extremity discomfort risk to develop. Changing up your posture (between sitting and standing) at regular intervals can go a long way to reduce discomfort risks. This research has categorized safe durations of standing into safe, slightly unsafe, and unsafe. Also, make sure to limit prolonged standing to just 2 hours at a time, with 5 minutes of seated rest at every hour has been shown to be incredibly useful at reducing the ergonomic risk.

THE ERGONOMICS OF PROLONGED STANDING (1)

2. Make sure workstations are setup ergonomically- no matter what position it is used in. 

Our free eBook walks you through how to exactly setup your workstation for either sitting or standing. I find that often the ergonomic setup of a standing workstation is an afterthought, so make sure that staff know how to optimally setup their desks for both sitting and standing!

Untitled design (5)

 3. Equipment can help. 

Ensuring that staff are supplied with the right equipment that encourages their use can be great. Of course you’ll need a desk that is set-up ergonomically, but beyond that there are many options that can be purchased to enhance the standing experience while reducing the risks associated with prolonged standing. Here are the top add-ons:

  1. Anti-Fatigue Mats (AFMs): Research has found that foot discomfort is proportional to the amount of time standing. With this in mind, getting an anti-fatigue mat can be a big value-add at improving comfort levels. This study found that AFMs are engineered to make the body naturally and imperceptibly sway, which encourages subtle movement by calf and leg muscles. This promotes blood flow and keeps blood from stagnating in the veins (causes workers to feel fatigued).
  2. Perch Stools: These specific types of stools are not quite for sitting, and not quite for standing; they are kind of an in-between. Perch stools can be used as a method to incorporate a slight rest break while you are still standing and the big emphasis is on slight because these types of chairs really lack structure. None-the-less, this research finds that perch stools are a reasonable solution for reducing back discomfort during prolonged standing.
  3. Foot Rails: These are placed underneath the desk to allow you to rest one foot on the rail during prolonged standing. It’s aim is to reduce some of the load and/or strain that accumulates on the lower back and lower extremities. The height should be approximately 15 cm (6”) from the ground and it should be long enough to rest either foot on it.
  4. Cushioned (like Running) Shoes: This is a really good budget-friendly suggestion. This research shoes that more supportive shoes have been proven to effectively improve comfort and reduce back, leg, and foot pain for anyone who must stand throughout their workday.

Like this article? Please share! If you haven’t had a chance to download our Free e-book, you can grab it here.

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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