Making Workplaces Less Sedentary

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a study where people were asked to stand up during work meetings. The results of the study suggested that one factor contributing to the unhealthy amount of time people often spend sitting at work is the social expectation that everyone should sit in certain situations, like meetings.

So changing the social norms around sitting is one way of potentially making workplaces less sedentary and therefore healthier. But are there other interventions that can encourage people to be more physically active at work?

Studies on this question have come up with a number of measures that seem to help.

Not all of these rely on waiting for changes in workplace culture. One way employees can take matters into their own hands is with activity monitors. A recent study suggested that smart activity monitors might encourage people to be less sedentary in the workplace and don’t interfere with work.

Another study earlier this year came to a similar conclusion: it found that using a cushion that detected sitting time was an effective way for people to self-monitor their levels of sedentary behavior at work.

However, it also suggested that many of the measures that would help people be more active in the workplace require employers to take initiative.

One example is installing height-adjustable desks so employees have the option to stand while working. Another is creating a culture among senior management that supports employees in being active in the workplace. Seminars that educate employees on how to maintain a healthy level of activity at work are helpful too.

Generally, people respond positively to these workplace changes. A 2017 study found that employees didn’t see standing while working as having significant negative effects on their productivity – and for tasks where it did interfere, they naturally avoided it. The employees interviewed in that study also experienced social support from workplace leaders as helpful in building a culture that encouraged activity.

Together, these findings highlight a number of concrete steps that can make workplaces less sedentary. Self-monitoring using activity trackers, smart watches or cushions that measure sitting time is one way employees can take immediate measures to find a healthy balance of sitting and standing. But workplace-level initiatives like height-adjustable desks and a change in culture are probably necessary to create maximally healthy work environments.