Some have called it “the sitting crisis,” the phenomenon that rocked the working world somewhere during the 19th century and placed us all in chairs at our desks, and more recently, in chairs in front of computers. Over the last few decades, however, companies have forsaken their comfortable, ergonomically sound desk chairs in favor of their own two feet. When research began to show that sitting for extended periods of time could make employees more susceptible to certain health risks, the chair was forsaken, employees were put on their feet with adjustable desks, and some companies even invested in desks with built-in treadmills to keep their employees moving.
There are real benefits to employees standing while they work instead of sitting. In a Boston Globe article, writer Kathleen Pierce reports that studies at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Missouri have found that, “desk workers who stood during the workday had lower levels of stress and anxiety, increased flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, and the release of endorphins.” The same reports, as well as individuals who have experience working while standing first-hand, say that they’re more productive, energized, and are less susceptible to the mid-day slump. Being on your feet forces you to shift your weight more often, resulting in more movement and calories burned. Without a chair, you’re less likely to assume poor posture when you get tired, making standing an ergonomically safe choice.
But like any good thing, there are potential downfalls that should be addressed. Blogger Lex Friedman exchanged his office chair for a standing office, and inquired about the benefits as well as potential hazards of the switch: “I exchanged e-mail messages with Professor Alan Hedge, the Director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University. He wrote: ‘Standing all day is associated with increased risks of back pain, varicose veins, foot pain and cardiovascular problems—the heart has to work harder….The best strategy is some of both.’”
Especially if you’re with a company that can’t afford the switch to standing desks, opt instead to encourage your employees to move about regularly. Taking frequent breaks to walk around the office, refill a water bottle, or chat with a coworker has resulted in similar increased levels of productivity. Studies have even proven that moving around during the day can lead to a slimmer waistline. Another solution might be to encourage employee activity in more innovative ways. Pierce also found that some companies, such as Chitika Inc., a mobile advertising agency, have provided ways for their employees to be active throughout the workday by bringing exercise to the workplace. Employees are offered a 3 p.m. recess to play kickball or encouraged to participate in yoga at on-site yoga classes.
The desk chair has been called “the enemy,” but for most of us, it’s where we conduct business from everyday. And like anything potentially hazardous – taking a phone call while driving, seeing the dentist, or ice skating – employees should be aware of the risks and given the opportunity and resources to counteract them.
Do you stand while you work? Have you implemented any changes in the office to combat “the sitting crisis?” Leave us a comment below.
IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by brianandjaclyn