Are standing desks better for employees than sitting desks?

By Sara Allaouat | Last updated: January 17, 2019

Sitting desks have been the standard for over a hundred years and changing to a standing desk office may be confusing for employees and employers. However, more and more health risks are being identified with sitting desks. While standing desks may be better for employees in some situations, it is not a one size fits all solution.

The American Medical Association recommends implementing substitutes to sitting options in the workplace in order to decrease the sitting time at work, which has a recognized health risk. Long periods of sitting can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and influence some forms of cancer. In contrast, downsides of standing desks are less pronounced with the largest concerns being foot, leg, and back fatigue and blood clot issues.

Although there is evidence suggesting that sit-stand desks have some small benefit by decreasing the sitting hours at work, and could be a safe option in the short and midterm (such as during a transition between a sitting and standing office), an increasing number of studies report more favorably on the benefits of standing desks.

Standing desks are resulting in several benefits to employees, including:

  • A less pain reporting by employees and a probable reduced chronic low back pain
  • a better mood and neurocognitive performance, resulting in an improved productivity
  • a sustained work schedule with more activity during the working hours and same intensity of activity during free time
  • an increased group performance in open spaces equipped with sit-stand desks

That said, one should not rely only on standing desks alone to increase workers physical activity, and a combination with other lifestyle interventions to decrease sitting should be considered. Also, an attention should be paid to employees already suffering from musculoskeletal disorders and conditions such as arthritis, which could be worsened by standing for long periods of time.

Like sitting desks, standing desk work areas should be ergonomically designed. Carpet and flooring surfaces must also be considered more heavily in a standing office. Standing desk workspaces must also account for fatigue and offer more rest breaks throughout the day than sitting desk workspaces.

Another concern is that when converting an office from sitting to standing, workers will need time to acclimate to the new physical state, just like when an athlete begins a new and more challenging exercise routine and has to gradually work into it to avoid overreaching and overtraining. Office dress codes may also need to be amended and incentives offered for employees to purchase more appropriate shoes for a standing office. This is especially true for women who normally wear high heels in the office as traditional high heels can cause serious orthopedic damage to the feet and musculoskeletal system in long-term standing conditions.

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