Take a stand

25 February 2016

Workers who use sit-stand desks are just as productive as those who use traditional desks while enjoying a host of possible health benefits, according to a world-first study by researchers at the University of Sydney. 

Workers in office using traditional and sit stand desks

Published in Preventive Medicine Reports, the pilot study measured the effects on the productivity of 30 call-centre workers using powered sit-stand desks.  

Despite a growing number of intervention studies looking at the impact of sit-stand desks on workers’ sitting and standing behaviours, relatively little is known about the effects on worker productivity.

“Our study found that workers who increased their standing by up to 60-90 minutes a day were more active and felt more energised than workers who used traditional desks, while not compromising their work output,” said lead researcher Dr Josephine Chau, from the University’s School of Public Health.

“They reported being more satisfied and feeling more productive at work.

“The proportion of workers who reported they had enough energy throughout their workday increased seven-fold, from 6 per cent to 44 percent when using sit-stand desks,” she said.

The findings of the study are good news for office workers who want to make the case for sit-stand desks in their workplaces.

“Sit-stand desks are a good option for office workers who want to reduce the amount of time they spend sitting during their working day,” Dr Chau said.

“A growing body of research suggests that prolonged periods of sitting is linked to a higher risk of developing chronic diseases, including obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These health risks are particularly relevant for people with largely sedentary jobs, such as office workers.

“We must be aware of the dangers of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and do all we can to combat this. A sit-stand desk is one of many things you can do to improve your health, but exercising is crucial.

“People shouldn’t assume that a standing desk means they don’t have to exercise - we need to sit less and move more,” she said.

Co-investigator Dr Lina Engelen, University of Sydney, said that prolonged standing also has its own risks.

“People need to be mindful to build up their standing time gradually and avoid going from no standing to standing all day at work.

 “It’s a bit like training for a marathon - you don’t go from running 0 km to 42 km overnight. You need to help your body adjust to it gradually. Ideally, workers could aim for around two hours of standing or non-sitting time per working day.

The study was conducted over 5 months with more than 30 staff from the telecommunications company Optus as part of their health and wellbeing program.  It is a world-first in terms of a sit-stand desk intervention in a natural office environment using a sample of participants in jobs unrelated to health.

The research was a collaboration between the University of Sydney, Southern Cross University and Optus and was supported by a Sydney Medical School Early Career Researcher Grant.

Kobi Print

Assistant Media and PR Adviser (Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy)