To Sit or Stand? Deciding to Invest in Adjustable Desks

More companies are going all-in on adjustable desks. Should yours?

One of the fastest-growing employee benefits in America isn’t free lunch or bean bag chairs in the office. It’s furniture — specifically, standing desks. This year, 53 percent of employers will either purchase or subsidize the purchase of standing desks for their employees, the Society for Human Resource Management reports.

Replacing some or all of your company’s existing desks with standing desks — also called sit-stand desks or adjustable desks — is a time and financial investment, but companies find the payoff to be well worth it.

Here’s why you might want to adopt these desks as a perk for your workplace:

Standing Desks May Be Good for Business

A growing body of research suggests that sit-stand desks may help employees do better work, including:

• Increased productivity: Research from Texas A&M University has shown that employees can experience up to a 46 percent rise in productivity when using sit-stand desks, most likely because of higher energy levels.

Improved engagement: Research from the University of California Los Angeles and Swarthmore College found that workers are more likely to be engaged and show more interest and enthusiasm in their tasks while standing. Higher engagement levels can lead to increased employee morale.

• Innovation: Many companies are offering standing desks to spur creative thinking. For example, Apple CEO Tim Cook recently spoke with Bloomberg about how every worker at Apple's new headquarters would have a sit-stand desk. Research from office design firm Gensler shows that employees who have greater control over their workplace environment are more likely to be innovative.

Flexible Seating Improves Health

Sitting at a desk for multiple hours each day can expose your workforce to a number of health risks, including:

• Heart disease: Individuals who are sedentary for hours at a time could see their risk of developing heart disease increase by up to 147 percent over those who are more active, according to a study published in medical journal Diabetologia.

• Weight gain: Standing burns more calories than sitting — up to 174 more in an afternoon, according to a study in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Burning more calories helps keep weight in check.

• Muscle stress: Poor posture when sitting can cause muscle strain and stress, which can lead to workers' compensation claims for repetitive stress injuries such as back pain. Sitting can put as much as 90 percent more pressure on your back than standing, according to Cornell University.

How to Pick the Best Options for Your Team

As sit-stand desks continue to grow in popularity, more options become available. The challenge then becomes finding the right pieces to fit your workplace. Here are some considerations if you’re shopping for standing desks:

• Functionality: How do the desks raise and lower? There are electric, pneumatic and crank models — choose one that your team will be comfortable adjusting. Also, consider how much weight the desks need to support.

• Size: Determine the work surface needed for computers and other equipment, and the available space for a standing desk. They come in all sizes, from attachments that go on top of existing desks to executive-sized standing desks.

• Flexibility: Can the desks be ergonomically adjusted to fit each employee’s height? This is especially important if more than one employee will use the same desk. The Mayo Clinic’s guidelines specify how to set up a proper ergonomic standing desk.

• Office style: Will the desks fit in with your existing furniture and decor? Modern, industrial, traditional or eclectic — look for the option that best suits your company’s style and culture.

Before buying adjustable desks for employees, first consider providing workers with several options and asking for their feedback. Continue to monitor feedback once you’ve brought the desks in to ensure your workforce remains healthy, happy and productive in their new configurations.