The debate over standup desks has been raging since a recent study found negative health impacts for employees who stand all day. But what about the other health and productivity benefits of being in a more active position at work?

One the one hand, a study by the Texas A&M Health Science Center showed increased use of standing-capable desks did increase productivity. Researchers measured employee activity in a call centre over six months and found around 45 per cent of participants who used standing desks showed a productivity boost. As a workplace, however, a call centre has more obvious metrics for measuring productivity than is typically available in other office settings.

When considering health, by contrast, excessive standing at work may not be the best strategy. A study by the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto found employees who stand all day are at roughly double the risk of developing heart disease than those who spend their days seated.

Read: Employees divided on productivity, stress of work-space configurations: survey

The intent of a standing desk isn’t that the employee must stand all day, says Jan Chappel, senior technical specialist at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, a federal government organization. She says of her own standing-capable desk: “Some days, I stand for 20 minutes, then I sit for 20 minutes and then I stand for 20 minutes. People laugh at me going up and down all the time, but it really does help because you can change your body position when you need to and you’re staying at your desk and you do tend to get more stuff done.”

A fact sheet from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, in fact, suggests the best strategy is to adjust as needed; otherwise, strain in one position could do more harm than good. Standing too long can cause foot, knee, hip and back issues, according to the fact sheet.

If employers are considering such desks, they should think about them as just one potential source of increased workplace wellness and productivity, notes Chappel.

“I think, in the long-run, [employers] find that it’s a combination of things. If you’re giving people the choice to sit or stand, if you’re in an office environment, I would support that,” she says, emphasizing the need to address other issues, such as workloads and deadlines, in order to improve employee health and productivity.

Read: Should employers cover athletic therapy?

Copyright © 2021 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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