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Standing Strong: Studies Confirm Standing Desks Increase Productivity

January 31, 2024

Standing Strong: Studies Confirm Standing Desks Increase Productivity

By Jordan Lees.
Jordan Lees is a qualified physiotherapist and the Founder of UpDown Desks. He is passionate about the health and well-being of office workers.

There are some studies to back this up, which I'll get to shortly. However, firstly I'd like to discuss why, in my opinion as a WHS Consultant, standing up at work increases productivity. 

In my experience, most people have a sitting tolerance of between 30 - 60 minutes. After this time, restlessness, irritation or discomfort results in the individual "wanting" or "needing" to change position. Once this occurs, the individual is unlikely to be able to concentrate on the task at hand, because their central nervous system is telling them to MOVE!

The reason this occurs is commonly because the body does not like staying in one position for prolonged periods. Unfortunately, this is the usual way of doing things in traditional office settings. 

Now to the research...

​A study published in theIIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors found that employees who had the option to use a standing desk were a whopping 45% more productive than those who didn't. For this study, they analysed the number of calls taken by employees in a call centre.

Another study, published inOccupational and Environmental Medicine, found that periodically switching between sitting and standing reduced fatigue levels by at least 15% and up to 33%, as well as reducing musculoskeletal discomfort by 31%. Both of these factors are crucial to productivity as they are directly proportional to how long an individual can concentrate on a particular task.

Further, a study published inPreventing Chronic Disease found statistically significant improvements in fatigue levels, vigour, tension, depression, confusion, and overall mood, in employees who used standing desks periodically throughout the day for 7 weeks. At the end of the study period: 

  • 87% said they felt more comfortable
  • 87% felt energised
  • 75% felt healthier
  • 71% felt more focused
  • 66% felt more productive
  • 62% felt happier 
  • 33% felt less stressed

So, the research and clinical experience tends to suggest that standing desks can improve employee productivity. I'd like to point out that I do not advocate standing all day because most people can't do it - and this itself would qualify as a prolonged posture, which standing desks are aimed at eliminating. Standing periodically throughout the day, for about 50% of the working day, is the way to go.

But let’s dive a bit deeper into all the different ways standing desks improve productivity.

How Standing Desks Increase Productivity 

Physical Health

There is hardly a system in the human body that is not adversely affected by extended sitting. From musculoskeletal discomfort, stiffness and overuse injuries that come from staying in a particular position for a prolonged time, to the more serious effects of reduced cardiovascular function and higher risks of diabetes. 

Standing lowers blood pressure, improves blood sugar and increases circulation lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. Standing improves core muscle strength and posture, impacting both lower and upper back pain. 

Feeling healthy and working comfortably increases focus and productivity. 

Cognitive Brain Function

Alternating between sitting and standing has been shown to stimulate the frontal brain and enhance cognitive skills we use to problem solve. “Executive functions” are what help us carry out steps that achieve objectives. 

Research has shown a direct correlation between sedentary behaviour and degeneration of the area in the brain responsible for memories and spatial cognition. 

Morale 

Employees who feel that employers are observant of their well-being are 38% more engaged at work. Providing an ergonomic standing desk set-up is a way that employers can display support for their employees. Whether individual standing office desks or flexible workstations that encouraged collaboration.

Introducing stand-up desks promotes movement and alertness making workers more eager to collaborate with colleagues, encouraging communication and connection.

Mood 

Symptoms of anxiety and depression are commonly associated with sedentary behaviour. Movement and physical activity are significant factors in stress reduction and maintaining mental well-being. 

Who Are Standing Desks For?

School Children 

The effects of standing on children's concentration span have been studied by associate professor and ergonomic engineer, Dr Mark Bendon, at the Texas A&M Health Science Centre School of Public Health,

282 children across several grades were given the option to use a standing desk or stool in the classroom environment.

Over two years psychologists measured the children's focus using a series of markers. Results of the study showed that students in the study group were up to 25 times more engaged than students using the traditional desk settings. 

Plus, classrooms using stand-up desks reported increased participation in group work and class activities thereby reducing disruptive behaviour and enhancing the learning environment.

Students 

A study published in the International Journal of Research and Public Health provided evidence of the neurocognitive benefits of sit-stand desks in classrooms. 

The research carried out on freshman students indicated that using standing reading desks significantly improved executive functions.  Executive Functions are skills directly related to academic skills that promote effective time management, understanding and memorising what they read and complex problem-solving. 

Office Workers 

Studies on productivity in office workers and adjustable standing desks are both limited and conflicted. But, a one-year-long study led by Dr Elizabeth Garland, associate professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai reported that 65% of participants with height-adjustable desks found that after a year they were more active, felt more energetic and had improved concentration and productivity.

Who Else Could Benefit?

It’s not just traditional white-collar workers who could benefit from an adjustable writing desk. Most creative jobs require hours of sitting at a screen. Standing desks for video editors and graphic designers, for example, carry the same benefits as for sedentary office workers. 

Gaming standing desks are valuable for recreational gamers. Posture is important regardless of what you are doing and muscle tension or misalignment can quickly turn your pastime from pleasant to painful.

The Effects Of Prolonged Sitting On Productivity 

Multiple studies reveal that poor posture can have a significant detrimental impact on energy levels, hormone balance, and even cognitive function. Sitting office workers often present with repetitive strain injuries of the neck and shoulders, hands, and arms as a result of postural degeneration. This impacts performance, and productivity is affected. 

A study surveying risk factors and musculoskeletal symptoms of the upper body in almost 3000 adults, concluded that poor posture during computer use was significantly responsible for reduced productivity. 

Financial Implications 

The financial implications of poor performance cannot be overlooked. For example, back pain alone costs employers in the U.S.A. over $7 billion per year through absenteeism and lost productivity. 

The loss of productivity attributed to lifestyle diseases is high. Aside from the time off work that it takes to recover from surgery or illness, there is the cost of premature death.

Absenteeism impacts a company not only through paid leave days but also the resulting decrease in productivity and the negative impact on staff morale. 

Conclusion

There is enough evidence to be convincing that sit-to-stand desks increase productivity.

It can be substantiated that a raising desk is necessary for an injured or disabled employee to carry out essential duties of the job. As we go forward, we may even be able to show that physically healthy or neurotypical people benefit enough from standing desks for them to become the standard.

You don’t have a qualifying injury but still wondering how to get a standing desk at work

Convincing your boss that using a standing desk will increase office productivity, may just sway your employer's decision in your favour.


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