People + Process = Performance

Sit-to-Stand: Effective Dynamic Workstations Or Expensive Static Desks? Part 2

Part 2:  The Challenges of Sit-to-Stand Workstations (SSW)

Simply changing a workstation from predominately sitting to the ability to alternate between sitting and standing may not eliminate the root cause of staying in a static position for extended periods of time.  This is especially true if workers shift from prolonged sitting to prolonged standing.  This raises the potential of shifting the same chronic, static experience from one posture (sitting) to another (standing).


Does Discomfort Really Decrease?

Unfortunately there haven’t been enough studies done to date that show conclusively that SSW help or hurt discomfort.  The studies that have been done are not only limited in number but also in sample size and duration so the conclusion of studies done to date on discomfort should not be taken as gospel.  In part 1 I mentioned there was one study that showed frequent changes between sitting and standing resulted in less back discomfort.  For upper extremities, there is one study that showed SSW caused an increase in discomfort of the upper extremities while another study showed there was no increase or decrease in discomfort. 


Standard Ratio for Sitting and Standing?

I’ve often been asked if there is a recommended amount of time that a person should spend in sitting and standing.  To date, there are no guidelines or standards for time duration.  The ratios used have been different from study to study with no specific justification for their ratios.  If one looks beyond the office, the Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario has an industrial guideline that specifies limits for prolonged standing of 4 hours/day with 1 hour of static standing as well as guidelines that call for no more than 6 hours of static sitting.  At this time the best recommendation I can give for SSWs at this time is to break up the time spent in static posture with more frequent movements, i.e. sit for 30-60 minutes, then move, stand for 30-60 minutes, then move, etc.  A good goal would be a 1:1 ratio of sitting to standing for the work day, i.e. sit for a total of 4 hours and stand for a total of 4 hours.  Keep in mind that movement is key and must be integrated into the hours spent in sitting or standing. 


It also must be noted that certain individuals, either due to the type of work performed and/or personal health conditions, may not be able to achieve a 1:1 ratio.  Studies have shown that workers who changed postures more frequently, even though they had the same total sedentary time, showed beneficial health changes.  My best advice is simply to move and move frequently.  If you have a job or condition that limits standing, then a reasonable goal would be to get up and move for a minute or two every 30-45 minutes. 


Will Workers Really Use SSW?

Employers can buy and install SSW but that doesn’t mean that they will be used.  Just because workers have SSWs doesn’t mean they will actually use them to the extent that the employer wants/expects.  Studies have shown the adoption and usage patterns of workers who received SSWs varies significantly.  A survey was done of 4 companies that converted to all SSWs showed that only 1 in 5 workers used the sit-stand feature at least 1x/day. 


However, usage can be significantly increased when certain things are added other than just simply installing the SSW.  One study showed that workers who received 90 minutes of instruction and 6 days of standing reminders during work stood 3x/day; in contrast, workers who received minimal instruction (basically this is how to move it up and this is how to move it down) never stood even though they had the same SSW.  Other studies have confirmed this finding that good ergonomics instruction upon installation and frequent reminders the first few days result in greater usage of SSW and that absence of training resulted in no noticeable different in reduction of sitting time.


Key Take Away

SSWs have the potential to bring about positive change to the office—for the worker individually and the entire team.  Studies are limited and not always consistent or conclusive so the exact effects of SSWs on worker health, safety and productivity are unknown.  Reasonable conclusions for SSW use to date are: 

  • They improve worker morale, engagement
  • They do not impede productivity
  • They may reduce some musculoskeletal discomfort, but on the other hand, they may increase some discomfort
  • Usage is highly dependent on the education of employees after the SSW has been installed.  Note that education doesn’t mean reading a document or watching a short video.  The most effective education was done in-person and for 60-90 minutes.



Need to educate your employees on SSW?  Contact us to learn more about our onsite SSW training.  Is your workforce in multiple locations or at home?  No worries!  We got you covered there too as we offer interactive training through live web meeting.  612.454.1432 or