Standing and treadmill desks have been a rising trend in business settings across the country. Although experts agree that sitting for extended periods of time throughout the day can be dangerous for your health, there is little agreement on the results that standing or treadmill desks have on employees.
The impact of implementing standing or treadmill desks will likely be determined by a variety of factors unique to your workplace and employees. Here are some factors to keep in mind while considering the use of these desks at your organization.
Standing and treadmill desks may provide several benefits for your employees and company.
Health care experts agree that maintaining a sedentary or still position for extended periods of time can lead to health risks later in life, including heart disease and diabetes. Standing desks encourage employees to move around the workplace more frequently. A recent study from the University of Minnesota found that employees using standing desks reduced their time sitting by about 38 minutes each day.
Even standing in a sedentary position can have some health benefits over sitting. While standing the heart works harder and causes the body to burn more calories. Treadmill desks replace standing and sitting with walking, a low intensity activity, and as a result, the body burns even more calories.
All of these potential benefits could help reduce health insurance claims at your company and keep your employees at work, reducing costs that would otherwise have been spent addressing health concerns.
Depending on the task that an individual employee is assigned to, standing or walking can help increase productivity. Research shows that employees who stand while composing emails or answering phone calls were able to focus more on their work. Standing or walking can add a sense of urgency to an activity and discourage your employees from ineffectively multitasking or becoming distracted.
Since standing and treadmill desks are becoming a trend, offering them to your employees can make your organization a more desirable place to work. Prospective employees may be drawn to a company that offers the option of sitting or walking in an effort to improve their health. Notable companies such as Google, Twitter, AOL and Facebook all offer their employees the opportunity to use a standing desk.
Though standing and treadmill desks can have health benefits, there are potential disadvantages to keep in mind.
Although researchers agree that sitting for extended periods of time throughout the day can lead to significant health risks, they are divided as to whether standing can help prevent these risks.
Some occupational health specialists are concerned that the rising trend of standing desks may give employees who use them the impression that standing in one place is an acceptable replacement for sitting in one place. They argue that the calorie burn difference between sitting and standing is relatively insignificant and will not have a noticeable impact on the long-term health of employees.
Other health experts are concerned about the detrimental effects of standing for long periods of time that are not a concern with sitting. Studies have shown that excess periods of standing puts more strain on veins, backs and joints, especially in individuals who are overweight.
Research shows that walking or standing may increase productivity during some tasks, but it may be a hindrance when added dexterity or creativity is required. For example, it may be difficult to write a long email or article while walking on a treadmill, and the additional sense of urgency caused by standing may distract an employee working in a creative field, such as design.
Assigning different types of desks based on the type of work being performed also brings up various additional issues, such as the cost of an adjustable standing desk or the logistics of fitting various types of desks into the same office space.
Offering employees the option of using alternative desks can represent a significant financial expenditure. Treadmill desks and high-end standing desks can cost thousands of dollars, and units that are simply placed on top of an existing desk can still cost hundreds of dollars. Existing desks can be customized with inexpensive materials, but these desks would not be as structurally sound and may pose a potential risk to the employees using them.
Are standing or treadmill desks right for your company?
Establishing the effectiveness of standing or treadmill desks for your organization, or even individual employees, is a difficult task. If you are interested in standing or treadmill desks, consider purchasing a single unit as a trial for either one eager employee or several employees to share. This can help establish the advantages or disadvantages of these desks at your organization without committing to large expenses.
Also keep in mind that certain types of desks may be more appropriate for a given employee or position.
Various other employee wellness programs can be used to complement or replace standing and treadmill desks. Employees should always be encouraged to engage in low intensity activities, such as walking, to avoid the potential health risks associated with over-standing and over-sitting. Although standing and treadmill desks may or may not have a place at your business, employees should always be encouraged to maintain their health whenever possible.
This HR Insights is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as professional advice.