Sitting too much could increase disability by 50 percent among people who are age 60 and older, no matter how much exercise they get, according to a Northwestern University research reported by NPR. In fact, the rising awareness of the health hazards of excessive sitting prompted more companies and work environments to change the workers’ desktop. Transitioning from a sitting cubicle to a standing office can be better for many workers’ health, and this idea is spreading and adopting fast in some office environments.
Gym time does not fix the negative affects of sitting all day. However, having a standing office could increase the likelihood of workers to move more frequently throughout the day and even increasing their productivity and creativity, according to BBC. General Electric’s British plant in Groby, Leicestershire, is currently looking into giving its employees’ the option of working at a standing office or a stay in the traditional sitting version.
However, cost could be an obstacle if a company wants to 500 or 1,000 desks changed. Standing office desks tend to cost more than conventional desks, and the price depends on design and materials. Sit-stand desks manufactured from Elite Office Furniture in the U.K. costs about £500 ($840) per desk for orders of 50 or more. Google company’s U.K. branch had ordered an undisclosed amount of this desk Another company, Back Care Solutions, sells the sit/standing desks for just under £400 ($670), compared with the conventional desk cost of £172 ($288).
Companies should see the change as an investment, not a cost, says Jeremy Myerson, professor of design at the Royal College of Art. “There’s a tendency (in the U.S. and the U.K.) for people to feel that “having their own desk and chair was a symbol of job security and status,” he remarked. “Denmark has just made it mandatory for employers to offer their staff sit-stand desks.”
Current research on the effects of standing office work productivity and health is just budding, and so far, the evidence shows that standing could be better than sitting. In an Australian study published in the April 2013 issue of BMC Public Health, researchers found that sit-stand desks had a “high usability” and acceptance among the sample population of 31 workers. Factors that influenced the sample’s behavior and reaction to the sit-stand desks include perceived work productivity, accommodation of transitions between standing and sitting, over experience, and electric versus manual height adjustment of the desk.
One subject responded to the perceived health benefits, “Today I’ve got it up and I’ve a bad back anyway so it’s good you know to actually, when you stand it gets a bit easier.” However, one subject did have experience some discomfort with the standing desk. “I can move sometimes with difficulty but standing in one spot is putting more pressure on my back, and automatically start after a while it just shoots pain down the leg. There is nothing wrong with the desk; it’s me.” A bigger and longer study that will be published in the same journal will examine the health and economic effects sitting office desks versus standing office ones. The three-month study, which includes a 12-month follow-up, will have 160 participants.
A recent two-day study from the University of Chester published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that subjects who stood at work in the afternoon most of the time burned more calories than the sitting sample. However, there was no differences in heart rate between both groups. This is the first study that took place in a real office environment during normal working hours, which may initiate such future studies on work ergonomics. It also measured the differences between capillary blood glucose that could provide evidence on whether standing office desks could reduce the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
Myerson mentioned that the sit-stand desks isn’t really a new innovation. In the 19th century, Victorian clerks and office workers could either sit or stand at their desks, allowing them to move more frequently. In the early 20th century, Taylorism was introduced into the workplace, and people found that it was “much easier to supervise and control people when they’re sitting down.” Today, it seems like the office environment may be transitioning back to the ergonomic setup 200 hundred years ago.
Even though standing office desks is better than sitting versions, will it be widely accepted before this decade ends? With the rising cost of health insurance and increased risk of mortality from excessive sitting, companies and employees may eventually adopt the standing office concept to cut back costs and increase productivity. For most workers who are using the standing office desks, they feel less cramped and have more freedom to move around than sitting on a chair.
By Nick Ng