Brain and Body

There’s a Simple Way to Boost Productivity at Work, Study Finds

May 27, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Man working at a standing desk
Photo credit: ramsey beyer/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Productivity was 46 percent higher in study participants who used standing desks.

The physical benefits of a standing desk are more evident — too much sitting is thought to be as bad for your health as smoking or drinking. However, new research from the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health suggests that standing up during work may also provide adults with a mental boost, leading to higher levels of productivity.

In the study, 167 employees at a call center were split into two groups — one with stand-capable workstations and one with regular desks and chairs — and monitored over the course of six months.

In the stand-capable workstations, which included desks that could raise or lower so the employee could sit or stand throughout the day as desired, the participants spent an average of 72–73 percent of their day seated and were about 46 percent more productive than those who worked at regular desks and spent 91 percent of their day seated. Productivity was measured by how many successful calls were completed each hour at work.

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"We hope this work will show companies that although there might be some costs involved in providing stand-capable workstations, increased employee productivity over time will more than offset these initial expenses," study author Mark Benden, associate professor at Texas A&M School of Public Health, said in a press release.

Further, in addition to the productivity boost, the researchers found that standing during the workday can improve the employee’s health. During the six-month duration of the study, nearly 75 percent of those who worked at the standing desks experienced a statistically significant decrease in body discomfort.

"We believe that decreases in body discomfort may account for some of the productivity differences between the two groups," lead author Gregory Garrett, a public health doctorate student, said in the release. "However, standing desks may have an impact on cognitive performance, which is the focus of some of our research going forward."

Garrett says that another interesting finding from the results, which have been published in the journal IIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors of the Taylor & Francis Group, was that the productivity differences between the standing and non-standing groups weren’t as pronounced during the first month of the study.

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"Starting with the second month, we began to see larger increases in productivity with the stand-capable groups as they became habituated to their standing desks,” he explains.

Notably, Benden stresses that the research didn’t use a random sample. All 74 employees in the standing desk group had been working at the company for one to three months, while the seated-desk control group of 93 workers had worked at the company for a year or longer.

“Still, we believe that the fact the new employees had at least one full month on the job, in addition to 60 days of training, before we began measuring, was more than enough to minimize ‘experience variation’ between the groups,” Benden says. “This design also eliminates volunteerism bias, which increases the generalizability of the study results.”

Next up, the researchers say they plan to search for more creative ways to find “objective productivity measures” for office workers in other types of careers, in both traditional seated environments and stand-capable ones.

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