In the Fall 2015 edition of ECHO (the Ontario Municipal Human Resource Association newsletter), Jennifer McGillis had an article featured on "Sitting vs. Standing at Work". You can read her article on pages 16-17 of the newsletter.

Sitting vs. Standing at Work

In the past two years, the effects of sitting for hours at a computer workstation has been put under the microscope with studies citing that sitting increases risk of diabetes, heart disease and perhaps even certain types of cancer (Swift, 2003). With conclusions like this it’s no wonder that sitting is being called “the new smoking”.

Emerging from this trend are two different options to achieve sitting and standing at work. The first is a fully height adjustable desk and the second a desk-mounted keyboard and monitor option. Each has pros and cons which will be explored below:

Height Adjustable Desks

Since all persons have the same stature from the waist up regardless of whether they are sitting or standing, fully height adjustable desks are the best option for alternating between sitting to standing. If the desk has sufficient range of motion, a keyboard tray should not be needed as the desk can be lowered to align the keyboard and mouse with the employee’s seated elbow height. Once that has been set, the computer monitor can be adjusted to align the screen with their eye height in the sitting position. When transitioning to standing, the only thing that needs to change is the desk height.

One thing to keep in mind is how the desk adjusts. In order to see maximum usage, this process needs to be simple and easy. Desks with height adjustable cranks should be avoided as they take more time and are too much work for staff to do regularly. Electric height adjustable desks are a much better option and if they have programmable height keys it’s even better. Basically, staff would determine what their sitting desk height is and set that as height “A” and then determine their standing height and set that as height “B”. This means that transitioning between the two is as simple as pressing a single button and the desk’s memory will make the correct adjustment.

By far the biggest drawback to these desks is the price point. In many cases they are over $1000 making them a much larger financial output than the desk-mount options below. Another drawback can be implementing them into existing set-ups (i.e. cubicle based systems). However, your furniture provider may have a height adjustable option designed to fit into the existing set-up.

Desk-mount Options

The most appealing features of desk mount options are the price and the simplicity with which it can be added to an existing set-up. Depending on your equipment provider, you can often get a desk-mount option for under $500 which is an attractive price tag compared to a fully height adjustable desk. The other great advantage is how easy they can be adapted to existing workstations. In most cases, the desk-mount is simply placed or clamped onto an existing desk with no other equipment changes required.

The ergonomic drawbacks to these options can be significant (depending on the employee’s size and stature) and selecting the right one for the employee is key to achieving an effective solution. Although each option has its own unique features, common issues we are seeing with many of these include:

  • Keyboard does not go below desk height For many individuals the desk height is too high and many desk-mount options actually increase the working height by up to 1 inch, making the height issue worse for some.
  • Dual-screens are not mounted according to CSA guidelines An employee who has two monitors should have the primary screen mounted directly in front of them with the secondary screen off to the left or right side. In desk-mount options the screens are mounted side by side meaning that the employee is looking to either the left or right side at all times.
  • Accessories not built for standing Desk-mount options are typically designed to accommodate keyboard, mouse and monitor(s) and may include a paperwork station, however employees who frequently take notes, answer the phone or perform other work on the desktop may find that these options do not accommodate non-computer work easily in the standing position.

As a result of the attention on this topic, we have seen a significant increase in requests from our public sector clients regarding sit-stand workstations. Staff are intrigued by the idea of how sit-stand workstations will make them more comfortable and reduce the likelihood of health-related issues associated with sitting. The challenge is that sit-stand options can be a relatively expensive initiative that they cannot afford to implement at all workstations, in all departments.

To combat this, many public sector employers we work with are developing policies to address these requests, and more importantly, to have a process in place to deal with doctor’s notes or other requests that say the employee needs a sit-stand workstation. Many of our clients have often adopted the approach that a doctor’s note prompts an ergonomic assessment so that a qualified professional looks closely at whether or not a sit-stand option is required and then they get direct feedback on which sit-stand option is best suited for the employee. This helps so they don’t create more issues by putting the wrong product in place.

To take a more blanketed approach for all staff, one of the most important things you can do is educate staff on how they can build standing and walking into their day without requiring a fully adjustable desk. Educating staff on the importance of healthy living practices in their workday may help to manage some of these requests.

Use some of these tips to help your staff get standing and moving throughout their day:
  1. Make walking meetings – if you don’t need your computer, take your one-on-one meeting ‘on the road’ and go for a short walk
  2. Stand up – stand when you are on the telephone, reading paperwork or doing other tasks that do not require you to be on the computer
  3. Stretch – take time to stretch throughout the day, especially any muscles that are tight and uncomfortable
  4. Take a lunch (and breaks!) – more and more people work through lunches and breaks but breaks in your day to get up and walk or stand and eat is a great way to break up static sitting
  5. Public printing stations – printers in our personal office space mean we don’t have to get up to get our printing. Encourage staff to print to common printers and walk to the printer regularly to pick up paperwork
  6. Drink lots of water – drinking water makes you go to the bathroom more frequently and requires you to get up for refills, both of which get you out of your chair (not to mention the other health benefits from getting your recommended daily intake of water!).
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