Standing Desks & Workplace Posture: A First Step in Employee Wellness?

About a year ago, I started working most of the day while standing up. Six months ago, I talked a little about the experience on my own blog and thought I’d share a bit more about how the transition is to standing most of the day and how businesses can help.

The first question I always get is about how I stand all day, and it is the easiest to answer: I don’t.

I take small breaks on a hard stool that I bought to go with it. When I talk on the phone, I walk. When I listen to a podcast, I might lay down.

The point here is that I don’t do all of anything all day. And that’s the first step.

The impetus to stand

When I hurt my back a year and a half ago, I did everything I could to fix it including physical therapy, chiropractic, and and even acupuncture. Once I could resume normal activities, I noticed sitting at a desk most of the day still bothered me even when I did everything to make sure I took breaks (egg timer next to the desk sort of stuff). The doctor asked me if I was able to get a standing desk and it has helped tremendously.

Many people might be motivated by other health reasons, too. Numerous studies have indicated that sitting all day has negative effects, even if you do exercise regularly before or after work.

After trying it and getting through the initial foot and leg pain that standing all day will do, there is a big difference to how I feel when I work from home at my standing desk and when I’m on the road and may be using hotel desks or coffee shops for most of the day. That alone would motivate me to ask for one if I ever stopped working from home.

Organizational barriers

And that’s the thing that I know is a barrier: facilities. I work from home so my only barrier is my budget. But it seemed like such a minor barrier, I wondered if it should really be a concern at all.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I was at LinkedIn headquarters for a meeting and I noticed a floor full of cubes with some standing and some sitting desks. Looking closely, I noticed that the cube desks had adjustable heights, and most had a different monitor setup depending on the number of monitors and the height they needed them at.

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As we went into a conference room, I noticed that the table was at standing height. Could you imagine if you had to stand all meeting? How many hour-long meetings would be scheduled if that were the case?

Of course, there is a labor cost to adjusting the height of the cube desks. And those taller chairs that went with the desks weren’t free. But they weren’t cost prohibitive, either.

Better than wellness?

And while I won’t get into wellness programs here, I often wonder why things like this aren’t thought of as a first step to employee wellness? We all talk about changing lifestyle behaviors and the like, but how about the things we already control (namely the 40 plus hours they spend at work each week)?

I’m as guilty of it as anyone because my mind doesn’t immediately go to health in the workplace when I think about employee wellness, but it probably should.

While it may not be better, or replace a full-fledged wellness program, thinking first of what we can do in the workplace to make it better (especially in the ways employees want to make it better) should be the first (and mandatory) step for any company. You don’t have to do it all cutesy either with some special program or incentive, just tell them it is an option and it is absolutely no problem to switch it (either up or down if they tire of it).

When you break the news to them though, make sure they are standing up. That may help your point.

Lance Haun is the practice director of strategy and insights for The Starr Conspiracy, where he focuses on researching and writing about work technology. He is also a former editor for ERE Media, broadly covering the world of human resources, recruiting, and sourcing. 
He has been featured as a work expert in publications like the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, MSNBC, Fast Company, and other HR and business websites.
He's based in his Vancouver, Wash., home office with his wife and adorable daughter. You can reach him by email or find him off-topic on Twitter.