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Michel Spruijt


General Manager, EMEA

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Standing desks: 5 ways HR can facilitate change


The case in favour of employees standing at desks rather than sitting is a strong one. Countless studies have been conducted into how much more happy, productive and healthy employees are if they spend less time sitting and more time standing.

The University of Loughborough has just produced a study which was covered by the BBC; it was credible, academic research that confirmed that NHS workers benefited from sitting less and working more at standing desks.

But if the science tells us that standing is better than sitting at work, why aren’t we, in the HR field, all advocating a move to standing desks? The answer is that to do so requires a fundamental change in mindset within an organisation.

Science tells us that standing is better than sitting at work.

It demands the willingness to embrace change and a desire to alter the status quo. Many organisations struggle with this and so fail to sign off what is effectively an evolution in workplace strategy.

But it need not be this way. I have worked with numerous organisations to help them make the transition to standing desks and there are five key things that can help HR managers facilitate the change required to deliver happier, healthier employees.

1. Leadership

Change has to come from within and for that reason, health and wellbeing has to migrate inwards from the periphery of the organisation to sit at the heart of business strategy. Static workplaces are more than just an HR issue, they are now a leadership issue.

Health and wellbeing cannot be regarded an ‘add-on’ but a ‘total worker’ approach with health and wellbeing placed firmly within the very fabric of the organisation.

HR managers must fight the corner of health and wellbeing, and get it on the boardroom agenda.

In organisations where health and wellbeing is embedded within leadership strategy and the approach filters down from the top, the transition from a static to movement approach to working tends to reap the most rewards in terms of employee productivity and motivation, as well as talent attraction and retention.

HR managers must fight the corner of health and wellbeing, and get it on the boardroom agenda.

2. Budgeting

Budget is often a perceived barrier to widescale adoption of sit-stand workstation adoption. While the promise of savings is strong, when you consider the overwhelming cost of inactivity to physical and mental health, the direct correlation has never been fully investigated until recently.

To address the gap, an Australian research team designed a study with the purpose of determining whether sit-stand desks are a cost-effective alternative to ordinary office environments where people are sedentary most of the work day.

The study, which was published in August by the Scandinavian Journal of Work and Occupational Health, calculated both short- and long-term cost benefits of sit-stand desks.

The study found the intervention to be cost-effective. What’s more, researchers found that the benefits of a 12-month intervention would positively impact the long-term health and longevity of users.

When modestly scaled up to the national workforce, the intervention had a 100% chance of being cost-effective, leading to more life years and health-related quality of life gains, and lower long-term health costs.

3. Office design

Although technology has moved on to increase user productivity, we haven’t yet started looking at our office furniture – and in particular the humble chair and desk that most of us have to use – as having a direct link to health and productivity. This is despite numerous studies showing that being deskbound is bad for us.

If you were to walk in tomorrow to a transformed office where you were handed a sit-stand workstation, research tells us you would likely be anywhere from 12% to 45% more productive.

The ripple effect of sedentary behaviour impacts engagement and performance.

Instead, millions of workers all over the world over continue to work in an outdated way. Furniture does more than complement the design of a space – it can help or hinder the vitality of the individuals that use it.

For many of today’s corporate workers, furniture is contributing to a drastic increase in inactivity. The ripple effect of sedentary behaviour impacts engagement and performance, as well as short and long-term health.

4. Movement

With workers putting in more hours than ever before, it’s necessary to design active spaces that are not only attractive, but also encourage movement.

Offices designed to encourage movement, even without standing desks, should be reaping some benefits of a healthier, more productive workforce. Have a look around at your work space; does it encourage you to move?

It’s helpful to think about inactivity in two ways: forced and voluntary. Currently, many of our workplaces are designed with furniture that forces inactivity throughout the day, whether at an individual workstation or in conference rooms.

As the forced behaviour becomes habit, it leads to more inactivity after work. Think of your metabolism like a battery; movement charges that battery and inactivity drains it. If you drain your battery at work by sitting for eight hours, you arrive home with less “juice” to do other beneficial activities.

But if you change your work space to encourage movement (by introducing workspaces that allow you to sit and stand intermittently), you can gradually charge your battery over the course of the whole day.

Collectively, it’s this reduction in sedentary behaviour, by creating choice where it didn’t formerly exist and adopting new habits, that reduces employee risk of physical and mental health disorders, feeding back into the positive cycle.

5. Small steps

When I work with organisations to help them make the transition to standing desks, I often take time to find out what other, smaller steps HR managers have taken to encourage a healthier approach to working.

Organisations often complain about an excessive number of meetings, for example, but these can be a good place to start in including increased movement in the working day.

Have you encouraged staff to take walking meetings? Or to have standing meetings which, in addition to encouraging movement, can also lead to shorter, more productive meetings?

What about incentives to take the stairs rather than the lift, or to walk or cycle to work? Is email always the best way to communicate with a colleague? Or could this be substituted by a short walk to a person’s desk to speak to them?

At Ergotron, we recommend a sit-stand-switch approach to working, in other words, changing position every 30 minutes or so.

As HR continues to lead the charge in investing in wellness programs, the best initiatives will be those that benefit individuals and organisations.

In light of the fact that workday inactivity is harmful and unproductive, and that many intervention studies demonstrate the value of using sit-stand furniture, it’s no longer reasonable to keep employees sedentary.

With millions of workers performing jobs in front of computers or around conference tables, it’s time to have them do so in a way that benefits wellness, productivity and satisfaction.

When it comes to making a decision, feel confident that pushing for a sit-stand initiative makes good sense for both the businesses and its employees.

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Michel Spruijt

General Manager, EMEA

Read more from Michel Spruijt

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