New study confirms that adjustable standing desks make you happier, healthier and more productive

standing desk
CC BY 2.0 Fixed standing desks at Bensonwood/ Lloyd Alter

Because people gotta move.

We used to devote a lot of pixels to standing desks, from the time they were overhyped (remember “sitting is the new smoking”?) through the inevitable backlash, and through the studies that discounted their benefits. Now a new study led by Elizabeth Garland of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, along with the Center for Active Design and Perkins + Will, looks at the issue again and finds that standing desks actually do make a difference.

Perkins + Will© Perkins + Will

This was an in-the-field analysis done in the Atlanta offices of Perkins + Will over the course of a year. Garland tells Mark Wilson of Fast Company that “a lot of the literature [to date] was done in the lab–artificial places. This is one of the first projects for a such a long period of time in a real-life situation.”

Employees on one floor of P+W’s office were given adjustable workstations (AWS), while on other floors they remained sitting. Over the course of a year, questionnaires and micro-polls were used to measure behaviour.

Compared with participants using traditional desks, participants who received AWS reported (through polling) significantly less sitting two and a half months after (17 percent reduction in sitting) and six months after (15 percent reduction) installation. After twelve months, 88 percent of participants who received AWS reported the new workstations were convenient to use; 65 percent reported increased productivity; and 65 percent indicated that the AWS positively impacted their health outside of the workplace. Participants with AWS also reported better concentration and overall, would recommend AWS for their worksite.

The study confirms something that I have always suspected: that if you give someone an adjustable desk, they will sit a lot more than they stand. Really, a 15 percent reduction in seating seems like not much at all. It’s less than earlier studies found, which was that people with an adjustable desk ended up standing only 20 percent of the time.

The study also found that adjustable workstations “may also have social and mental health benefits concerning job satisfaction, coworker communication, and work efficiency.” Although the numbers were not statistically significant, the anecdotal information is interesting:

An analysis of social and mental health outcomes after the three-month follow-up found a positive association between workday sitting and job satisfaction among men. Among women, reductions in workday sitting correlated with better coworker communication. Employees less than 30 years old had associations between reductions in weekday sitting and better coworker communication and improved work efficiency.

Herman Miller's action office© Herman Miller

Really, all of this stuff could have been written in 1965; in fact, it was -- by Bob Propst of Herman Miller, who really invented the modern standing desk. When designing the Action Office, testing out different workstations, he "found himself constantly in motion, moving from one working area to another, standing to sitting. All this activity made him feel more productive, alert, vital." Or designer George Nelson, who said “The Lord never meant a man to be immobilized in one position … These are not desks and file cabinets. They are a way of life.”

action office herman miller image

This seems to be the key takeaway from the study: Give people options, give them flexibility, let them move like George Nelson says the Lord meant them to, and they are happier and more productive and alert. It has only taken fifty years to prove it.

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