The workplace setting has become a key target for innovative wellness programs to encourage healthier and happier lifestyles. With the increase of sedentary behavior, encouraged by our televisions, phones, and computers, it is ever more important to find creative ways to incorporate physical activity into everyday tasks. For desk-based jobs in particular, studies have shown that excessive sitting is associated with fatigue, obesity, chronic diseases, back and neck pains, and psychological distress. For this reason, adjustable workstations, also known as standing desks, have made an impression in offices throughout the country. Even President Obama requested $700,000 to replace White House desks with their active design counterparts. Mental health is an overlooked component of such an ergonomic change.
The Stand Up to Work study, funded by the American Society of Interior Designers Foundation, is a collaborative project of the Center for Active Design, Perkins+Will, Steelcase, and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Stand Up to Work evaluates behavioral changes in office workers who receive adjustable workstations that allow them to shift between standing and sitting, compared to workers with standard desks. FOr this study, employees at an architectural office (Perkins+Will, in Atlanta, GA) used the adjustable workstations freely and were asked about the amount of time spent sitting and various mental health characteristics before and after two and a half months of use. The data collected for this project allowed for a thesis study of the mental health benefits of adjustable workstations in an architectural office, Perkins+Will, in Atlanta, Georgia.
The survey revealed promising results with a 15% average decrease in workday sitting. Employees under the age of 30 indicated better coworker communication and more efficiency throughout the day. Men rated better job satisfaction and women rated improvements in coworker communication compared to the average baseline. These outcomes demonstrate that adjustable workstations can have the potential to effectively improve the work environment for employees. The aspect of personalized control at each person’s workstation allows adjusting for comfort when needed. It also improves mobility while working among colleagues and builds stronger interpersonal relationships necessary for positive emotions in the workplace.
Other studies agree with these results and the ability to change the health dynamics of an office. The Take-a-Stand project found that employees were sitting less by an average of 69 minutes per day, experienced less back and neck pain, and reported an improvement in mood within seven weeks of use. Another study in Australia found that fatigue decreased during the standing position, lower pain and discomfort decreased, and productivity increased.
The Perkins+Will office is not limited to adjustable workstations as its only active design feature. As a LEED certified green building, the office boasts a spacious open floor plan, inviting staircases and large windows bringing in natural sunlight. The addition of the standing desk is one feature among many that creates the fun and creative environment required for high employee satisfaction. To maximize the entire workplace as an area of mental health promotion, multiple health conscious efforts should be implemented simultaneously.
Mental health is an overlooked component of ergonomic change, yet it has influences in a multitude of ways within a workplace, such as job stressors, interpersonal dynamic of the workplace and the environmental surroundings. An integrated approach to improve proactive steps towards positive occupational mental health include reducing work-related risk factors, promoting positive aspects of produced work, strengths and capacities, and addressing existing mental health of employees regardless of cause. Redefining occupational health to include mental health can influence the way employers create environments conducive for overall well-being.
About the Author
Christina Su holds a Master of Public Health degree from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Her research interests are focused on preventative medicine and health disparities among underserved populations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org