Standing up for your employees' health

Written by
Jo Dodds

20 Oct 2015

20 Oct 2015 • by Jo Dodds

The phrase "sitting is the new smoking" was coined by Dr James Levine, director of the May Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative. This is a scary prospect for the millions of office based employees who spend most of their day sitting, including those who work from a home office or a coffee shop or, worse still, in the car... 

Why is standing up healthy?

Offices are not usually set up to encourage movement. And, let's face it, most of us are too busy to think about getting up from our desks and taking a walk around every so often.

After spending years believing that exercising for 20 minutes a day is enough (or whatever the latest exercise suggestion is), research is now showing that it isn't enough to counteract the negative effects of sitting down for the rest of the day. Some of these negative effects can involve obesity, sleep apnoea and pulmonary embolisms and sitting for hours at a time could be contributing to the chances of developing diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and many other health issues.

In research co-commissioned by Public Health England, it was reported that office workers should spend a minimum of two hours a day on their feet at work and ideally up to four hours.

Standing for much of the day rather than sitting can also help to strengthen core muscles, which in turn can help with the seemingly ever present back problems. Do you know anyone who doesn't complain about back ache at least sometimes! And have you looked at your absence stats related to back pain recently?

You may groan at the thought of standing all day but it really can help to keep you healthy and for employers thinking about the health and wellbeing of their employees, it's definitely something to consider.

Stand up for health

We know that sitting all day isn't good for us but as an employer expecting a certain level of productivity from our office staff, what can we do to encourage more standing in the workplace whilst getting the job done?

Enter the world of 'stand up desks' or to give them their more accurate name, 'sit-stand desks'. This is one of those product names that really does say what it does! 

A standing desk allows you to stand and work at the same time. There are a few options with standing desks and it's not simply a case of raising a computer to a height where your employee can stand at it; you still need to think about the ergonomics of the set up including the height of the screen needing to be at eye level and the keyboard and mouse position, for example. 

Some of the standing desks available are just that, all you can do is stand at them or maybe perch against a tall stool for some of the day if you need some support. Some of the more sophisticated (and much more expensive!) options have hydraulics to raise and lower them so that they can be a sitting desk as well as a standing version. There are also ingenious desk versions that raise and lower the work station part without actually raising the desk. 

Implementing standing desks could provide other benefits in the workplace too. In offices where standing desks are common, users have also reported that using a standing desk has helped them to be more social at work, especially in offices where cubicles divide up the desk areas. Other research shows that being social and interacting with people in a work environment can help people to feel calmer and is beneficial for your employees’ health. 

Changing attitudes and posture

If your employees are used to sitting all day and most of the evening too, the transition to standing for most of the day will take a while to get used to. 
It is a good idea to start with standing a few hours a day interspersed with sitting. Of course that means that you need to think about flexible solutions for the office to allow a transition into the new way of working especially if you are using standing desks that don't allow for an interchange between sitting and standing. 

One way to make a start, which will require less investment initially, might be to try stand up meeting rooms to enable some variety (and perhaps that will keep the meetings more focused too!). Once you’ve got that working for the business you can start to think about the feasibility of introducing sit-stand desks and how they can be introduced to the workforce – not everyone will think they’re a good idea!

With some willpower and effort your employees will learn to adjust to their new workstation and their bodies (and hopefully your absence stats) will thank you.


* Standing desk image: ECOStanding 6 Height Adjustable Workstation