Are standing desks as beneficial as they are trendy?
According to a new study by Texas A&M University’s Health Science Center School of Public Health, they are — but not just for workers’ health. The popular desks also improved their productivity – significantly.
The study, which monitored 167 employees in a Texan call center over a six-month period, found that employees using stand-capable desks were more productive than their colleagues in standard, seated desks. And the productivity of the standing-desk workers continued to increase over their seated colleagues steadily over time. In the first month, the stand-capable group had 23 percent more successful calls than their seated colleagues, and by the sixth month, they had 53 percent more successful calls.
The findings, which were gathered between fall 2013 and spring 2014, were recently published in the journal IIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors.
“When my doctoral student first came to me [with the numbers], I said, ‘You’ve made a mistake. This just isn’t possible,’ ” said Mark Benden, one of the report’s authors and the director of the university’s ergonomics center.
But he checked the raw data, and the stats checked out. In past studies of this type of intervention, the typical margins of improvement have been smaller, he said.
Productivity is a hard thing to determine in any workplace, let alone to define for an academic study. So productivity was defined by the employer as the number of successful calls in one hour of work. (A “successful” encounter, in this case, was defined as a phone call in which the participants — health and clinical advisers — reviewed and set new goals with their clients and scheduled a follow-up call.)
“Pretty much all of their work time is spent at their desks,” Benden said. “They are measured at every second of every day. . . . Every one of those successful phone calls in the call center has a dollar value associated with it.”
The report’s findings are consistent with Benden’s past research on productivity and standing desks in high school classrooms, where they have been found to increase students’ engagement and cognitive performance.
The researchers also recorded and analyzed the workers’ health metrics through sense wear, which featured a three-axis accelerometer and measured, among other factors, the temperature of the body, heart rate and steps. “Think of it as a Fitbit on steroids,” Benden said.
According to research linked with the study, employees who worked at stand-capable desks sat on average for nearly 1.6 hours less per day than their seated co-workers. Prolonged sitting has been linked with many health risks, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. So it’s not too surprising that standing workers exemplified better health habits, including decreased sedentary time and physical discomfort, as well as higher steps and burned calories.
More significant than the statistical evidence in productivity was the change in outlook, Benden said. Researchers noticed a difference in the workers’ “comfort, attitude about work and how they felt about themselves.”
But are the study’s findings transferable to other lines of work, say an office worker at a busy law firm or a front desk clerk at a hotel?
“The simple answer is yes,” Benden said. “I think that folks, like you and me, can improve our productivity.”
More from Lifestyle: