It is common knowledge that during office work it is beneficial to get off your desk once in a while and take a walk or use the treadmill. Now, taking it a step further, recent findings encourage people to consider walking and exercising while working at the office. A study on treadmill desks says the product helps benefit productivity and well being.
A student loan company in St. Paul, Minnesota, conducted the study, which occurred over a one year period involving 400 employees, over 40 of them volunteering to use treadmill desks. The maximum speed they were walking at was a brisk 2 miles per hour – slow, but nevertheless more active than sitting. The employees also took surveys every week, which measured their performance on a 10-point scale.
The leader of the research was Avner Ben-Ner, a 63-year-old professor at the University of Minnesota and former marathon runner. Forbes reports that Ben-Ner regularly uses the treadmill and stands while working.
Initially the results of the study were not very encouraging. Ben-Ner said there was a slump in productivity at first; however, he said this is due to being in a period of adjustment, with employees learning how to type while standing and reading their computer screens while moving. Once employees got accustomed to the new way of working, the treadmill desks began to help increase the quality of their performance at work.
Over time, Ben-Ner and supervisors noticed that the employees on treadmill desks improved in three key areas: quantity of work, quality of work and quality of how they interact with their colleagues. The supervisors also took part in surveys to rate the productivity of those sitting and those using treadmill desks. At the conclusion of the year-long study, the walkers were a point ahead of those sitting in chairs. In addition to an improvement in the quality of work, employees on workstations with treadmills also burned 74 calories per day, more than the average sitting worker.
This is not the first study conducted concerning treadmill desks, but it is one of the, if not the first study with positive findings. Results in a study in 2009 found users on the treadmill desks suffered a decrease in their fine motor skills that reached as high as 11 percent, such as mouse-clicking and typing. In addition, math problems was also problematic for the users. Even worse is the risk of accidents, including last year when a Toyota employee using a treadmill desk fell down while working. Furthermore, The Wall Street Journal reported last year how users on an on-line treadmill desk forum, called Office Walkers, complained of various afflictions like pain in their Achilles tendon or shocks from the buildup of static from the machine.
PBS notes there could be other reasons why this particular study by Ben-Ner was so successful. One of those reasons was that since the treadmills were purchased by the company, some of the employees’ could have felt a need to reciprocate the investment of their employer, thus motivating them to work harder. The theory is called “efficiency wage,” where employees who are better paid and looked after will be more efficient. However, Ben-Ner said if this theory was true productivity would not have been as consistent; the productivity of workers in this study increasing over time without ever dropping.
The results of this study are promising. There are many proven pros of treadmill desks in regards to productivity at work, but there are also several downsides that can not be ignored. Ben-ner says that the point of the study was to drive home the importance of exercise and of how there are many Americans who need it. He described society as “myopic” – too many people are too lazy to get off the couch to get what they need. He believes that encouraging exercising while working will help motivate people to exercise outside of work too.
By Kollin Lore