Considerations When Introducing Sit Stand Work Stations

By Linda Miller
Last updated: September 16, 2016
Presented by EWI Works
Key Takeaways

Benefits and pitfalls of sit stand work stations.

For years ergonomics experts have warned against sedentary work stations claiming that inactivity encourages injuries including back and neck ailments and metabolic syndromes. The body is not physiologically built for prolonged seated work.


Standing jobs, even in places like factories, have been all but eliminated by technology. This is true in many fields including manufacturing and agriculture where movement a generation ago was the norm. Sit stand work stations allow office workers to change positions from sitting to standing while continuing to work virtually uninterrupted.

In fact, many ergonomics experts and other medical personnel have gone so far as to say that prolonged sitting is dangerous to your health. Consider the following studies:

  • A 2010 study by the American Cancer Society, which included over 100,000 American adults, showed that sitting for more than six hours for work or leisure increased mortality rates by nearly 40%
  • A 2009 study by the American College of Sports Medicine demonstrated that habitual sitters had an increased early death rate of about half. This study included people from every fitness level
  • Studies by the American Chiropractic Association showed that employees with sit stand workplace options had markedly fewer missed working days
  • An article titled Evidence: Investing in Adjustable Workstations Produces Healthy ROI published in The Ergonomics Report showed that there was significant return on investment because of fewer missed working days, higher production, and lower short and long-term employee leaves
  • A Washington state study by Rick Goggings of over two hundred and fifty ergonomics case studies showed that there were significant reductions in worker injuries where sit stand workplace stations existed

Businesses want to know that replacement of traditional desks with sit, stand models will be an investment. Not every company needs to install workplace sit stand stations, and not every workstation within a company needs to be sit stand. If the job offers enough variety among sitting, standing, and moving these desks are not necessary.

If the worker can get regular movement out of their seated position like standing or walking for more than a minute every half hour, they do no require a sit to stand desk. In fact, the movement is preferred to simply sitting and/or standing alone.

If you have an aging workforce where there are arthritic joint problems or workers with weight issues, standing may be detrimental to their health. If precision movement and/or eye-hand co-ordination are crucial to job tasks, then standing to work is not a viable option.

So, who would benefit from sit stand workstations? If you have workers who are “tied to their desks” including a computer operator or a phone operator, they would benefit from the opportunity to mix sitting and standing throughout the workday.

How do you decide who receives a sit stand workstation and who does not? There are several ways:

  1. Go all in. Replace all desks with sit stand workstations if work does not necessitate a fixed work station. This is certainly the most expensive option, though it is also the safest if you are unsure. No one can complain of being overlooked or slighted. However, many workers may never use the sit stand option.
  2. Phase it in. Start with jobs where workers are “tied to their desks” and encourage the sit stand alternation.
  3. Give workers the option to request a sit stand work station. If they ask for it, chances are they will use it.
  4. Do a workshop concerning the health benefits of sit stand workstations and follow up with an opportunity for workers to take part in a test study.
  5. Be flexible. Provide one or two sit stations per department. That way the option to use it is there when and if people in that department want it. Demand for more of these work stations in a department tells you that they are being used.

There are some precautions to consider when you are choosing the furniture and where the sit stand stations will be located:

Sit stand workstations are often like a new toy whose novelty quickly fades. Think of ways to see that these workstations give you return on your investment. Contests? Photos? Health literature? Managing by wandering around?

One complaint about stand sit work stations is that they can be noisy, distracting to others and inconvenient in terms of adjusting to using them. Before you buy, evaluate carefully the work stations you are considering purchasing. Ask to test it in your workplace, or, at the very least, in the manufacturer’s showroom. Take people of various heights, age, weight, and work departments to get their feedback.

Look at ease of adjustment from sit to stand and back. For example, those with manual hand cranks often require many turns. They are inconvenient and workers just stop adjusting them or find it physically challenging to do so. They can also be noisy to adjust and disruptive to workers in that department. While these work stations are less costly, they may be poor choices.

Workers often complain of foot or leg discomfort when they first start to use sit stand work stations. Have a workshop on their phase in. The manufacturer will often send a spokesperson to ensure phase in goes well. Manufacturers suggest starting by having ten-minute stand periods followed by twenty-minute sit time, gradually increasing stand time to thirty or forty minutes stand time and forty minute sit time.

Manufacturers also suggest workers use the kind of supportive athletic shoes they would use for walking. Footrests that allow workers to raise one foot up on a box and then change feet will change the active muscles being used and relieve stress on the back. Do not install anti-fatigue matting at a sit stand work station it will only make it more difficult to utilize your chair. The true benefit comes from alternating posture and incorporating movement.

There is also a peer pressure element to using stand sit work stations. Workers do not like to stand out. If you are the only one standing in your department, chances are you will tend to stand less. Manufacturers suggest at first that the stand times be synchronized throughout the department or even the entire company until employees begin to become comfortable seeing people standing.

There are many benefits to sit stand work stations, and many things to take into consideration when deciding whether or not they are a good investment for your business. One way to get started might be to consult an ergonomics expert to help determine whether or not sit stand work stations are the best move for your company and employees.

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Written by Linda Miller | President

Linda Miller
Linda established EWI Works in 1991 & has extensive experience in large-scale ergonomic projects involving design reviews & training. Industries include healthcare, utilities, forestry, mining and manufacturing. For two decades, she has presented at health & safety conferences & teaches at the University of Alberta.

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