The Standing Desk Intervention at the Workplace

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Introduction

Workplace remodeling involving sit-stand desks is becoming increasingly popular. Employees tend to demand and ask for such well-being initiatives as they want to protect their health. Standing desk intervention is associated with reduced time spent sitting at work and increased employees’ daily activity (Gao et al., 2018). Most studies on the efficacy of standing desk initiatives provide enough evidence to consider implementing similar interventions backed by leaflets, training sessions, and behavior change promotion.

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Health Benefits of Stand-up Desks

Many different studies claim that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with adverse health implications. For instance, Ji (2019) treats the prevalence of physical inactivity, especially among office workers, as a global threat. Sedentarism is unhealthy since it increases the risk of developing obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, and depression. The less time employees are active (stand or walk), the less energy they expend throughout the day. The excess in consumed calories may result in gaining weight or obesity. The latter is a well-known risk factor for a plethora of chronic diseases that severely affect employees’ well-being.

According to Resendiz et al. (2019), modern people spend at least eight hours a day sitting and expend less than 1.5 metabolic equivalents. Usman et al. (2018) add that sedentary activity of workers and students, such as sitting at work/school or looking at a smartphone, take up to 85% of their waking hours. Work tasks became less physical, while most leisure activities (such as watching films and playing computer games) are also passive. For that reason, the majority of studies recognize the workplace as a primary place where healthy behavior should be promoted.

Researchers claim that the purchase of standing desks and their use promotion among employees may successfully address the issue. All of the reviewed studies recognize sit-and-stand desks’ potential to decrease sitting time and increase office workers’ stepping and standing time. In other words, it promotes cardiovascular fitness needed for normal and healthy body functioning. Biddle et al. (2020) examined Stand More and Work (SMArT Work) intervention, accompanied by leaflets and seminars, and identified its main benefits. The questionnaire data revealed that most participants enjoyed their new workstations, reduced their sitting time, and were motivated to change their behavior.

They also reported positive feelings about their general health, increased productivity, and cognitive functioning. Engelen et al. (2019) evaluated similar interventions in a public sector workplace. The installation of adjustable sit-stand desks was combined with workshops, information emails, and prompts to motivate behavior change. The results were quite similar since participants spent less time sitting than before and expressed their satisfaction with the intervention. Engelen et al. (2019) estimated that intervention participants reduced their sitting time by 80 minutes over an 8-hour working day. Both papers highlight that a promotion campaign should be conducted by management to increase employees’ awareness and motivate them to choose a healthy lifestyle.

However, some studies failed to identify positive health outcomes of sedentary reduction. For instance, Resendiz et al. (2019) evaluated a six-month standing desks intervention in an overweight group of hospital professionals. Despite the evident reduction in sitting time, the authors did not identify noticeable improvements in BMI, WC, weight loss, and other long-term health outcomes. It can be explained by confounding factors like nutrition habits or the subjectivity of self-reported behavior. Researchers also point to the fact that some other studies managed to identify positive changes to pulse wave velocity and blood pressure among overweighed participants. Nevertheless, this study also suggests that standing desk intervention improves the workplace satisfaction of employees.

Installation of sit-and-standing desks not only leads to higher energy expenditure but also brings neurocognitive benefits. Mehta et al. (2015) found that continued use of these desks improves cognitive performance of school students in terms of working memory and executive function. The latter are cognitive skills people use to determine the most suitable way of coping with a problem or facing a task. According to Mehta et al. (2015), regular use of standing desks boosts brain activity, similar to exercise programs that enhance blood flow. What is more, the desks limit distraction and enhance concentration on the lesson’s content and tasks. It is in line with already discussed studies that reported the rise in employees’ performance and productivity. Well-running executive functions are essential to excellent problem-solving and decision-making.

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Cost Benefits of Standing Desks

Many studies suggest that investment in height-adjustable workstations leads to an increase in savings in the long-run perspective. The cost-benefit analysis conducted by Munir et al. (2020) estimated that SMArT Work implementation requires £692.40 per person in direct and indirect costs. The majority of costs here are attributed to the purchase and installation of Darma cushions and standing desks. Nevertheless, the intervention provided annual net savings of £1770.32 per person due to high return on investment – 256% (Munir et al., 2020). The latter is associated with a reduction of absenteeism due to health issues and higher productivity over the course of intervention.

Researchers also point at the fact that self-monitoring devices were not utilized as was initially expected, and there was no significant difference between the two workstations. It means that investment costs could be further reduced, generating a higher return on investment. Gao et al. (2018) scaled up the Stand-Up Victoria intervention results to the national office-based workers and identified a significant cost offset due to HALY and LY gains.

They concluded that intervention aimed to reduce sitting time is cost-effective since it lowers long-term health costs. Both studies agree that investment is worthwhile both in terms of societal well-being and internal cost reduction practices. They also highlight the potential of further intervention cost reduction due to economies of scale and installation of cheaper workstations.

Small and medium businesses without wellness programs are often reluctant to invest money in sit-stand workstations. According to Zerguine et al. (2021), their major reasons are the high cost of implementation and other priorities. Instead, decision-makers tend to promote stretch and movement breaks as alternative approaches. Despite the high initial investment, the benefits of standing desks outweigh the costs. Change in the workplace environment associated with new workstations should promote sustainable behavior change. The authors also consider sit-stand workstations intervention as a well-being initiative that merits the attention of decision-makers.

Conclusion

To conclude, a standing desk intervention reduces sitting time at the workplace and promotes healthy behavior among employees. The majority of discussed studies agree that increases in cardiovascular fitness positively affect workers’ health and recommend considering new workstations. Questionnaires reveal that employees appreciate this kind of initiative reporting higher productivity and satisfaction with the workplace environment. Although initial costs of implementation are high, the intervention has a high return on investment; thus, it is cost-effective. The introduction of standing desks should be accompanied by management support and training on their appropriate use.

References

Biddle, S. J., O’Connell, S. E., Davies, M. J., Dunstan, D., Edwardson, C. L., Esliger, D. W., Gray, L. J., Yates, T., & Munir, F. (2020). Reducing sitting at work: process evaluation of the SMArT Work (Stand More At Work) intervention. Trials, 21(1), 1-17. Web.

Engelen, L., Drayton, B. A., Young, S., Daley, M., Milton, K., Bauman, A., & Chau, J. Y. (2019). Impact and process evaluation of a co-designed ‘Move More, Sit Less’ intervention in a public sector workplace. Work, 64(3), 587-599. Web.

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Gao, L., Flego, A., Dunstan, D. W., Winkler, E. A., Healy, G. N., Eakin, E. G., Willenberg,L., Owen, N., LaMontagne, A., Lal, A., Wiesner, G. H., Hadgraft, N. T., & Moodie, M. L. (2018). Economic evaluation of a randomized controlled trial of an intervention to reduce office workers’ sitting time: The Stand Up Victoria trial. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 44(5), 503-511. Web.

JI, A. R. (2019). Sedentary lifestyle a disease from xxi century. Clinica e Investigacion en Arteriosclerosis: Publicacion Oficial de la Sociedad Espanola de Arteriosclerosis, 31(5), 233-240. Web.

Mehta, R. K., Shortz, A. E., & Benden, M. E. (2016). Standing up for learning: A pilot investigation on the neurocognitive benefits of stand-biased school desks. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(1), 1-10. Web.

Munir, F., Miller, P., Biddle, S. J., Davies, M. J., Dunstan, D. W., Esliger, D. W., Gray, L.J., O’Connel, S. E., Waheed, G., Yates, T., & Edwardson, C. L. (2020). A cost and cost-benefit analysis of the Stand More AT Work (SMArT Work) intervention. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(4), 1-9. Web.

Resendiz, M., Lustik, M. B., Conkright, W. R., & West, G. F. (2019). Standing desks for sedentary occupations: Assessing changes in satisfaction and health outcomes after six months of use. Work, 63(3), 347-353. Web.

Usman, B., Champion, I., Muslem, A., & Samad, I. A. (2018). Standing, active vs. sitting, torpid: A management decision. Al-Ta Lim Journal, 25(1), 22-35. Web.

Zerguine, H., Goode, A. D., Abbott, A., Johnston, V., & Healy, G. N. (2021). Factors impacting workplace investment in sit-stand workstations from the perspective of purchasing decision-makers. Applied Ergonomics, 98(1), 1-8. Web.

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