Recently we’ve seen a rash of articles questioning the need for adjustable height desking. They come on the back of the release of a review into studies on the subject of sit-stand, ‘active’ desks, walking during breaks and software that prompts office workers to move or stand, by the Cochrane Library.

Just today, the front page of the Telegraph threatens early death to those that sit at a desk all day after a Lancett study looked into the issue - perhaps a little late to the party. 

Working a full-time, desk based job generally means sitting for somewhere up to 8 hours a day. It doesn’t take stats from studies to tell most people that kind of sedentary behaviour is not going to benefit ones health. Having said that, studies have proven that sitting all day at work over the years can contribute to obesity, heart disease and, as the Cochrane review puts it ‘overall mortality’.

Its obvious really - the likeliness someone would sit sedentary for periods that long on their weekend are slim to none. Intuitively we know to keep moving. We know the benefits of mixing up sitting and standing during the day – improved blood circulation, lowered blood pressure, improved weight management, improved concentration and productivity. Height adjustable desking then is an obvious addition to office furniture catalogues. And every self respecting contract furniture manufacturer and supplier offers them – but somehow they still haven’t quite taken off in the UK. Why?

The Cochrane review states at one end that prolonged sitting is linked to a host of detrimental physical effects. But at the other plays down the benefits of reducing sitting times by up to 4 hours. This seems odd – until you read that the review also states that standing for long periods is also linked to health issues – lower back pain, varicose veins etc.

This highlights sit-stand desking's biggest issue – the lack of understanding as to how to use height adjustable desks. As with fully adjustable task chairs or FitBits – they’re useless when the user doesn’t know how they work.

The sit-stand desk is a tool. Like the monitor arm that holds up a computer screen or the height adjustability of a task chair. If you have a monitor arm hold up your screen and it’s set so you have to look up or down towards your screen - you’re doing it wrong. If you have a height adjustable task chair and you aren’t making sure you’ve set it to a height that leaves your thighs at a right angle to the floor - you’re doing it wrong. And if you have a height adjustable desk and you’re sitting for 4 hours, then standing for 4 hours – you’re doing it wrong. Eventually your body will tell you so.

Ergonomic Consultant Kirsty Angerer explains:

“Ergonomics is a preventative design based discipline, yet we still take a very reactive approach to it. If someone has a musculoskeletal issue, we’ll react and typically with a new chair! What we should do is take a much more proactive approach which can help an organisation maximise productivity and minimise risk of injury and fatigue in the long term.
Product interventions alone are not enough, educating people on the benefits of a holistic workstation is as important.”

Regular alternating between sitting and standing is the healthiest behaviour in the work place. Additionally it is the behaviour that leaves users most comfortable.

At the end of the study 70% of the bank tellers preferred the sit-stand posture to just sitting (20%) or just standing (10%).

Purchasing these products is a big investment. It’s no secret that they cost more than basic desks and chairs. But used correctly they will pay you back in spades. On a personal level the benefit of a desk that helps fend off that ‘overall mortality’ is priceless. At company level the benefit to providing your team with the tools they are able to use to stay physically at their best make it a no-brainer if the budget allows. Staff morale and retention can be improved as a workforce who are looked after well feel more appreciated and respected. Staff who feel physically better take less days off due to ill health.

As Angerer puts it:

“Organisations do have a lack of understanding when it comes to sit stand workstations. They see it as an additional cost to the business. There is a lack of understanding when it comes to the benefits of a sit stand workstation and the return on investment it can yield.”

Buying ergonomic office products alone isn’t enough. Training as to how to properly use ergonomic products is vital.



Cochrane Library


‘The experience of muskulotsketetal discomfort amongst bank tellers who just sit, just stand or sit and stand at work.’ Andrea Roelofs, Leon Straker