Today’s office workers are more sedentary than ever—most of their jobs require sitting for long periods in front of a computer with limited movement. There’s no doubt that too much sitting has serious health consequences, but that doesn’t mean that you should replace prolonged sitting with prolonged standing. It's all about finding moderation between the two positions. Given this, many organizations are offering sit-stand desks to employees to allow them to alternate between sitting and standing. These sit-stand workstations are a valuable workplace perk, but keep in mind that there are correct and incorrect ways to use them. So in today’s episode, I’ll be sharing a systematic approach on how to properly use sit-stand desks so our clients can fully take advantage of its benefits.

An Effective Sit-Stand Plan

There are many simple changes that you can recommend to your clients to reduce their sitting time, and using a sit-stand desk is just one example. I have 3 tips that will give your clients better long-term results. To help your clients implement sit-stand desks successfully, you can share the tips on this list.

1. Adjust the Workstation to Fit the User Optimally

Let’s start with the fundamental strategy: having a proper ergonomic setup. It’s important to take note that everyone’s different, so the optimal desk height will be different for everybody. To maximize the benefits of a sit-stand desk, the desk height and screen position should be adjusted optimally to meet the needs of the user. Whether you’re sitting or standing, it’s essential to adhere to the basic principles of ergonomic setup:

  • Eyes should be slightly higher than the top of the screen.
  • The back must always be comfortably positioned into the chair’s backrest.
  • Neutral elbow height slightly higher than the hand working height.
  • The feet must always be securely in contact with the ground (or footrest for sitting).

2. Schedule Sitting and Standing Session

To find a balance in your sit-stand schedule, you need to find a schedule that works for you. Researchers found that certain schedules seem to work better for some people, so recommendations really vary depending on your client and their job function. Research has found that the ideal ratio for many office workers for sitting-to-standing time seems to be between the 1:1 ratio (60-minute sit/60-minute stand) and 3:1 (90-minute sit/30-minute stand). Meanwhile, the least preferred ratio among office workers is the 7:1 ratio (105-minute sit/15-minute stand), which is the schedule with the shortest standing. The main point here is to alternate positions as needed to let the employee adjust to a new working style.

For desk-based workers, experts recommend a gradual shift to increased standing over time. They should aim to initially progress towards accumulating 2 h/day of standing and light activity (light walking) during working hours, eventually progressing to a total accumulation of 4 h/day (prorated to part-time hours). Another important thing to take note of is that active break-time activities may be more effective in reducing muscle fatigue and foot swelling compared to just standing. 

Lastly, whatever sit-stand schedule the person chooses to use, it must fall within the stoplight analogy to prevent long-term sitting and standing ergonomic risks. This research has categorized safe durations of standing into safe, slightly unsafe, and unsafe.

  • The ‘Safe’ Category (lowest ergonomic risk or the GREEN LIGHT): Standing continuously for less than 1 hour AND for a maximum of 4 hours total throughout their workday.
  • The ‘Slightly Unsafe’ Category (moderate ergonomic risk or the YELLOW LIGHT): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour OR more than 4 hours total throughout their workday.
  • The ‘Unsafe’ Category (highest ergonomic risk or the RED LIGHT): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour AND more than 4 hours total throughout their workday.

3. Integrate Sit-Stand Desks Into Your Organization’s Wellness Program

One key factor of a wellness program is to make opportunities for employees to sit less and move more. Piggybacking ergonomics to existing wellness or continuous learning strategy is an excellent hack to promote long-term use of sit-stand desks. Why? Workplace wellness programs offer education and coaching regarding the most optimal sit-to-stand schedule, as well as promote more physical activities instead of just standing for posture breaks (one popular example is walking meetings).

According to this research, long-term usage of sit-stand workstations tends to last only for a short time (between 6 months and over a year) following its installation. This is why I recommend that users should be provided with proper training and education about sit-stand desks when introducing these units to employees. People will always need to use their discretion when deciding what schedule works best for them. Therefore, training should include advice on suitable schedules, as well as signs and symptoms of when it may be necessary to switch between sitting and standing.

Integrating ergonomics with a wellness program is a powerful match, yet it’s often overlooked. Combining a sit-stand desk with education on its value, ergonomics, and useful strategies is important so that the proper usage of the sit-stand desk is clear for each user, and they can really enjoy its full benefits.

In addition, the research found that those who had a higher intensity level of physical activities during breaks (like taking a lunchtime walk) had significantly lower muscle fatigue on the shoulder and low back muscles and foot swelling compared to those who used a typical sit-stand schedule. This is a great addition to an organization's corporate wellness programs. Combining ergonomics with an employee wellness program can ensure that sit-stand desks and other ergonomic initiatives will be effectively used by employees in the long run.

And that’s it! I hope you learned something valuable from this post. There are a lot of opportunities for you to provide ergonomic services in each of those steps, such as training, one-on-one assessments, and consultations). Now that you have this information, the only thing you need to do now is communicate (aka marketing) to the employers in your area so that they’re aware that you’re offering these types of services. 

Of course, as Ergonomic Professionals, we need to learn not only the process and tools of how to do ergonomic assessments but also how to market our services. That’s why on December 2, 2021, I'm going to be hosting a 3-part LIVE training to show you how to leverage what you know about ergonomics to bring more clients into your business. So, if you haven’t had a chance to sign up, just head here.


Resources:

  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00140139.2017.1353139?journalCode=terg20
  2. http://archiwum.ciop.pl/50497
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003687005001067?via%3Dihub
  4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00140139.2017.1353139?journalCode=terg20
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