The eight-hour work day didn't always exist. Before the Industrial Revolution, people rose with the sun and concluded their work by sunset. The eight-hour work day only came into existence in the the U.S. 99 years ago, once the Adamson Act, regulating railroad workers' shift hours was made law, PBS reported. And just as the 40-hour work week and eight-hour day are relatively new inventions, so is sitting down to work.
According to Fast Company, sitting down at work only became commonplace when other inventions such as the telephone and typewriter entered the office environment necessitating chairs. However, standing while you work is making a comeback and is even becoming a trend at many offices across the U.S. Even The New York Times recently published a style guide of what to wear when using a standing desk that includes recommendations on pencil skirts and jumpsuits.
Taking a stand at work
So, what are the benefits of a non-sedentary office, and what can human resources departments do to encourage healthier workplaces? Employee engagement ideas such as asking staff members what they think of standing desks and if they'd test them out for a period of time may help. Introducing standing options for employees is a great way to test the waters at first instead of making a complete change to non-sedentary desks, according to Human Resource Executive Online.
"I think the biggest and clearest takeaway for HR is to explore the idea of using non-sedentary workspaces beyond just standing desk stations, which are starting to become more prevalent in organizations, but to also explore their use during meetings, especially those that last less than an hour," Andrew Knight, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Washington University, told Human Resource Executive Online. "Those standing-oriented workspaces not only might be more efficient, as prior research suggests, they might lead to actual enhancement of creative thinking and problem solving."
Knight recently studied the effects of standing at desks or in meetings can have on employee behavior and found people are more receptive to collaborating and working as a team when they stand.
Out of 214 students who participated in his study, those that stood saw an increase in their physiological arousal, Knight told Human Resource Executive Online, which makes them more adept at working toward a shared goal.
Health and productivity
Being continually sedentary can be just as unhealthy as smoking, according to the American Heart Association, and if a company's human resource department wants to encourage healthier lifestyle habits along with better employee productivity it could introduce standing or treadmill desks. Standing and walking gets the blood pumping and enables staff to be more alert. Less sitting down may also minimize the number of sick or absent days employees take, Human Resource Executive Online noted.
"The trouble is, it's hard to measure the effect on productivity, unless you are making a widget," Rose Stanley, a WorldatWork practice leader. "If you look at it in terms of how much more alert a person is standing or being active, it makes sense. Also, think of an employee who is suffering from obesity, high cholesterol or diabetes – those take away from productivity, too. It's a good idea to step out of the box to help employees create behavior modification. Not sitting as much is one more tool in your arsenal."
Many staff members might think eight hours of standing is too long, but Fast Company advises employees and supervisors to slowly integrate the practice into their workday routines. Those new to placing their feet on a cushioned mat should start off by getting up for two hours and then gradually work their way up to eight hours. Desks with adjustable heights can also help employees get acquainted with a more active workday as they allow you to raise it when you want to stand and lower it when you need to sit.