Just a few generations ago, work was something most people did standing up.
No one worried about “dead butt syndrome”, eye strain from too much screen time or reaching a goal of 10,000 steps a day—everyone was too busy baling hay or doing backbreaking work in a factory.
Standing desks have been touted as the solution to this very recent, first-world problem of sitting too much at work.
But how much do they actually improve employees’ health? And are the benefits worth the investment? The latest findings might make you think twice before you jump on the standing desk bandwagon.
Health Benefits of Standing Desks: What the Research Says
Authors of a recent article published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology examined 46 separate studies on the health effects of sitting versus standing.
After reviewing results from 1,184 participants, they found people who substituted sitting with standing for six hours a day burned 54 extra calories on average.
Another way to shave off 54 calories? Eat just half of your apple instead of finishing the whole thing. (Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can walk up 11 flights of stairs—take your pick!)
So no, using a standing desk at work isn’t going to give you much of an edge when it comes to weight loss. If you stand for six hours every day at work and don’t increase your calorie intake, you’ll be about five pounds lighter after a year.
The health benefits of standing desks go beyond weight loss, though.
Standing more may lower your blood sugar levels and your risk of heart disease. If you have pain in your hips or lower back from sitting too much, a standing desk will almost certainly help. It will almost certainly improve your mood and energy levels, too.
Do Standing Desks Affect Productivity?
One argument against standing desks is that they can hurt productivity. One recent study found no difference in productivity between employees who sat down and those who stood up to complete the same tasks over a four-hour period. Other studies reported similar findings: The impact was essentially zero.
That’s good to know, but it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. And when the cost of the most basic adjustable height workstations starts at around $400, it’s a tough sell even if you have fewer than 100 employees.
Another legitimate concern is how often employees will use them.
Going from a mostly sedentary workday to standing for the majority of the day is a considerable lifestyle change. While many people welcome the chance to stand up for a while, most aren’t ready to give up their chairs for good.
Why Standing Desks Are Still Worth Considering
Technology and productivity writer Jill Duffy argues the biggest benefit of standing desks or sit-stand desks may not be health or productivity, but employee morale.
Today’s employees want more flexibility to choose how, where and when they work, and sit-stand desks give them another option. Even if they’re only standing up for an hour or two after lunch, it might help them power through an energy slump. It might help them avoid the tightness in their hips that comes from sitting for eight hours straight. It might just give them an excuse to move to a different part of the office and get a fresh perspective.
If you’re thinking about adding standing desks to your office, here are a few tips for ensuring the investment pays off.
Making Standing Desks Worthwhile
1. Start With Just a Few Desks
Add standing desks around the perimeter of your office and make them available to anyone who wants to use them. Then, see how often people actually do use them before investing in more. You can use IoT sensors to track usage.
2. Encourage Activity-Based Working
There are plenty of other ways to give employees more flexibility in the workplace. To keep them from sitting for too long in one spot, make sure you have a good mix of private spaces, meeting rooms and more casual common areas to encourage collaboration.
3. Make It Easy For Employees To Reserve Workstations
If you add some standing desks and find they’re in high demand, you don’t necessarily need to add them for everyone. It’s much more cost-effective to make them available on a reservation basis.
Standing desks may not be a magic solution to improving employee health or productivity, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile.
Think of them as just one more way to encourage more movement and flexibility in your workplace.