Is the belief that installing sit-stand desks is too expensive merely a costly misconception?

According to new research we recently conducted, a false preconception could be causing the UK’s slow uptake of sit-stand working, and costing employers a fortune in lost man hours, motivation and productivity. Noticing the huge disparity between the popularity of sit-stand working in the UK and Scandinavia, we carried out a survey among 132 senior UK opinion formers. The survey’s interviewees were drawn from influential company directors and experts in facilities management, workplace design and human resources, who were asked what they perceive to be the pros and cons of sit-stand working.

An overwhelming 98% of respondents said they could see the attraction of introducing sit-stand working, citing improved health (73%), increased productivity (11%) and attracting and retaining talent (5%), among the principal benefits. However, despite almost all respondents reporting that their organisation offered other forms of support to employee health, such as subsidised gym membership, private healthcare, fresh fruit and cycle-to-work schemes, it seems the introduction of the height-adjustable workstations that facilitate sit-stand working, is still in its infancy in the UK.

Only 10 interviewees, out of the 132 questioned, reported that sit-stand desks were widely available in their organisation, with a further 28% saying they were limited to employees with health or mobility problems and another 34% saying there were just a few available to any employees. 26% reported that there were no sit-stand desks available in their workplace at all. These figures are in sharp contrast to Scandinavia, where over 90% of all desk workers have access to adjustable sit-stand workstations.

The lack of access to sit-stand desks by UK workers is worrying, particularly when Public Health England has recently published an expert statement ‘highly’ encouraging the introduction of ‘adjustable, sit-stand workstations’ into UK workplaces. Dr Ann Hoskins, Deputy Director for Health and Wellbeing, Healthy People, Public Health England, said: ‘Research supports the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations to minimise how much we sit still. Being active is good for your physical and mental health.’

We asked what was seen as the biggest risk to introducing sit-stand working, and there was clearly a significant mental barrier to change.

73% of senior opinion-formers said they were concerned about the initial expense of introducing sit-stand workstations.

It seems that perceived ‘cost’ by employers is the main reason that UK workers are being denied access to sit-stand desks, which could help them to avoid the 112% increased risk of diabetes, 147% increase in cardiovascular events and 90% increase in death due to cardiovascular events, associated with a sedentary lifestyle.*

However, as Kinnarps UK head of marketing, Marc Bird, explains, this could be a costly misconception:

‘Because the trend for sit-stand working and the relevant technology has matured in Scandinavia, we have over 25 years’ experience in manufacturing cost-effective solutions, so a Kinnarps fully electronically-adjustable desk is available in the UK from as little as £400. Also, with many electronically adjusted sit-stand workstations drawing only 0.3 watts of power on standby, (and ultra-eco versions as low as 0.1 watts), leaving a desk on standby, for every hour of every day, for a year, will cost less than 40p, or less than the price of a second class stamp. Employers need to consider the short-term purchase costs against the long-term potential costs of having a sedentary workforce.’

Hope is far from lost however, as, despite the cost misconception; nearly 90% of the senior opinion formers questioned felt that sit-stand working was a maturing trend in the UK, which would eventually become the norm. So, with a little education, about the affordability of adjustable workstations and their long term impact on employee health and productivity, the move to sit-stand working should continue to pick up speed in the UK.