Q&A – Does it make sense to buy a sit/stand desk?
VDU workers spend as much as 70% of their working time sitting on their desk chair.
Sit/stand desks seem to be an attractive solution to break this sitting habit and encourage physical activity. But how useful are they in practice?
A sit/stand desk in itself is not sufficient to eliminate the sitting culture. However, they can be a valuable part of a broader well-being policy that combines different types of measures to encourage physical activity.
How long do we sit at work?
Research shows that Flemish adults spend an average of 8.3 hours sitting per day. Of these, VDU employees spend an average of 5.5 hours on their desk chair, according to a Flemish study. This is a striking result, as the same employees estimate that amount to be 7 hours.
The average time spent sitting down at work may be overestimated, but sedentary behaviour is unhealthy. It increases the risk of lower back pain, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. In the long run, all this leads to falling productivity and rising absenteeism.
Are sit/stand desks worth the investment?
Sit/stand desks encourage physical activity at work, but they are not enough to break the sitting culture in your organisation. The sedentary lifestyle is in fact a deeply ingrained habit. Various studies show that sitting behaviour starts in childhood, for example by watching TV for several hours a day. Reversing a sedentary lifestyle can only be achieved through a combination of actions.
What measures can you take to put an end to sitting behaviour?
You cannot change your employees’ sitting habits overnight. It requires interventions on two levels:
- 1. Educational interventions that increase knowledge and motivation for physical activity in the workplace.
These initiatives create awareness of the positive effects of physical activity. For example, a workshop on the risks of sitting behaviour, a free tool to monitor sitting time, posters in the workplace with exercise tips, etc.
- 2. Facilitating interventions that encourage physical activity.
These actions influence environmental factors.Think of distributing pedometers, providing bicycles, organising walking meetings, etc.
Multidisciplinary interventions – which combine an educational component with a facilitating action – have the greatest impact. For example, do you explain the advantages of dynamic working on the intranet?Then ask managersto hold one part of their weekly team meeting while standing. Or, after an ergonomics workshop, provide a few sit/stand desks for employees to try out for a few weeks and then gauge their findings.
How do you encourage physical activity when working from home?
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have all been teleworking in huge numbers, and we are less physically active than before. You can also support employees remotely. For example, by also holding digital meetings while standing up or by organising an online session with tips to promote physical activity.