In a recently published comparison of stand-capable work stations and traditional, seated desk configurations, researchers found workers with standing desks were about 46% more productive than their seated counterparts.
Gregory Garrett, MA, a public health doctoral student, and colleagues from the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health examined two groups of employees: one with stand-capable desks; and one with traditional seated desks. The researchers wanted to determine whether stand-capable desks provided as ergonomic interventions to improve physical health among employees also could improve employee work performance. In particular, the researchers wanted to find out whether the benefits of stand-capable work stations could offset the initial cost of implementation. Productivity was determined by the number of successful calls made per hour at work, a measurement collected daily during a continuous 6-month period.
Overall results showed employees with stand-capable desks completed 1.83 successful calls per hour, compared to 1.26 in the control group — a 46% difference. The changes in productivity for standing workers was not immediate, according to Garrett.
“At the beginning of the study, there was only a 23% difference in productivity levels for those who had sit-stand work stations,” Garrett told O&P News. “It is not something that is immediate, rather workers begin improving their productivity over time, as the individual becomes accustomed to working at a standing height.”
Garrett said the boost in productivity began to show in the second month and continued throughout the study, with the intervention group showing a 53% increase in productivity by the end of the 6 months.
The intervention group comprised 74 workers who were provided either stand-based or sit-to-stand work stations. The stand-based work stations consisted of desks at standing height with raised height/bar height chairs, while the sit-to-stand stations required workers to stand up from a fully seated position. Stand-based desk users also received footrests, and sit-to-stand users were given anti-fatigue mats. Garrett said no significant differences were found among employees using stand-based and sit-to-stand work stations; therefore, the two types of desks were referred to in combination as stand-capable work stations. The control group included 93 workers, all of whom used traditional seated desks. Traditional desk users had monitor arms for a dual-monitor setup.
Small changes, big results
While previous research had connected small productivity improvements with the use of stand-capable work stations, none had shown a large impact
“We were surprised with the productivity percentage,” Garrett said. The researchers hypothesized the productivity levels may have improved due to reduced body discomfort, enhanced cognitive function from physiological changes or a combination of these two factors.
He emphasized employees did not need to stand for the entire day or even most of the day to show positive results; rather, they spent less time sitting. The intervention group sat for 1.6 hours fewer per day than the control group.
“It does not take a whole lot to see a big impact in an individual,” Garrett said. “You do not have to stand for an additional 4 [hours] to 5 hours per day to get these kinds of results.”
In addition to improved productivity, employees with stand-capable desks showed positive physical and emotional impacts. Among the intervention group, 75% of employees indicated a decrease in body discomfort. In addition, they showed greater satisfaction with their jobs and were more engaged in their work.
“As a general rule, everybody who had the stand-capable desks were excited about having those,” Garrett said. “They felt they were more productive. They also felt [better] overall and had less body discomfort.”
Garrett said the next step in the research is to determine the impact of stand-capable desks on the cognitive performance of workers. Previous studies have showed cognitive benefits, such as improved attention and focus, for children who used standing desks in school-based intervention studies.
The researchers just completed data collection on a separate research project to measure the prefrontal cortex activity of people performing tasks in either sitting or standing positions. – by Amanda Alexander
- Garret G, et al. IIEE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors. 2016;doi:10.1080/21577323.2016.1183534.
Disclosure: Garrett reports no relevant financial disclosures.