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Do standing desks increase productivity?

We hear it all the time, the modern sedentary life is horrible for our health. But are standing desks the answer for people who work in an office? And is it just good for their health or does it also increase productivity?

Are standing desks all they’re cracked up to be? Having handled and talked with many office workers over the years, I have found that for most their sitting tolerance is between 30 – 60 minutes. By “tolerance” I mean that after this time, restlessness, irritation or discomfort results in the individual either 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 the one position for prolonged periods. Unfortunately, this is the norm in traditional office settings.

The research

A study published in the IIE 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. The study was conducted by analysing the number of calls taken by employees in a call centre.

Another study, published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that periodically switching between sitting and standing reduced fatigue levels by at least 15% (and perhaps 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 in Preventing 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 a seven week period. At the end of the study period, 87% said they felt more comfortable, 87% felt more energised, 75% felt healthier, 71% felt more focused, 66% felt more productive, 62% felt happier and 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.

Jordan Lees is an Occupational Physiotherapist and OHS Consultant and founder of UpDown Desk.

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