Despite existing for hundreds of years, standing desks are now part of the latest fad on office productivity and well-being. Many office executives are rushing to replace their traditional equipment as they believe that standing desks promote better health and higher productivity. However, these specialized office tools are not magic bullets. Like everything else, they present their own set of pros and cons.
So, what are the reasons why you shouldn’t buy standing desks? There are many reasons that standing desks may not be a good investment for companies. Various myths surround their usage, and some studies have debunked many of their purported benefits. Standing desks can do more harm on many occasions, mainly when people misuse them.
In this article, we present 25 reasons against the use of standing desks. Half of the ideas in this article relate to their effects on worker well-being. There are also other reasons, such as cost and inaccessibility, that can make it difficult for organizations to switch to these custom-made tables.
Health-Related Reasons to Avoid Standing Desks
Standing desks made a comeback in recent years precisely because of health considerations. It's part of resurging interest in corporate wellness. We have written an article, "25 Desks Your Office Needs for Health & Wellness," which shares more tips on how to maintain wellness in employee offices.
Many employees know that prolonged sitting is harmful to their health. It puts stress on the lower back, which can worsen existing medical conditions and accelerate wear and tear. Sitting also encourages a sedentary lifestyle, and it increases the risk of metabolic and cardiovascular disorders.
Since standing recruits more muscles than sitting, many people argue that standing desks should be better for promoting healthier lifestyles than traditional chairs and tables. However, people are starting to question whether the health claims hold up to reality.
It turns out that standing desks share many of the same problems with chairs and traditional tables. They can even introduce additional difficulties.
Standing up indeed consumes more calories than sitting. The reason is that the body recruits more muscles to maintain its posture in the standing position. However, the higher calorie expenditure also means that employees become tired more quickly when they use a standing desk.
In particular, remaining in a standing position can tire the feet and legs since they need to bear constant weight for several hours at a time. The problem with fatigue is even worse for people unaccustomed to having to stand for prolonged periods.
Blood needs to travel up the legs to return to the heart. However, positions like standing make it harder for fluids to return to the rest of the body since they have to flow against gravity.
The human body has safeguards to prevent fluid accumulation in the lower extremities, such as valves that prevent backflow in veins. However, these features can wear out over time, especially when a person stands with minimal breaks.
As a result of the fluid accumulation, tissues in the lower limbs can start to swell up. The excess fluid signifies poor blood circulation, which can cause health problems down the road.
The legs of people who stand for long periods can start to ache due to two reasons. First, foot and leg muscles work overtime to maintain balance and keep the legs steady. Due to fatigue, these muscles can feel uncomfortable after a whole day of using a standing desk.
Additionally, fluid accumulation and low blood circulation mean that cells in the legs do not get all of the nutrients they need. The tissues send pain and discomfort signals to alert the person that they need to move to a different position.
The feet are in constant pressure when a person stands still. The fat pads on the underside of each foot help protect the muscles and joints from excessive force. However, they are inadequate in protecting the feet from extended periods of standing.
When you stand still, the weight of your body compresses the undersides of your feet. The compression reduces blood circulation within these tissues, eventually causing pain and discomfort.
The pressure can also worsen calluses, which is a protective measure done by the skin to thicken the protective layers of skin on pressure points. However, large calluses can also press down on nerves, triggering more pain.
The standing position indeed helps reduce the compressive stress on the lower back. We have an article, "Will Using a Standing Desk Relieve Back Pain and What's the Cost?" which investigates the effect of standing desks on back pain.
However, maintaining the position for very long periods can still cause dangerous spinal pressure. Problems become exacerbated when people have poor posture. The constant pressure can wear down the cartilage disks that support your spine, leading to slipped or bulged discs.
Anyone who uses a standing desk should remember to take breaks now and then. Sitting breaks and short strolls are good ways to give your spine a break from keeping still. Besides, use good posture to ensure the even distribution of your weight among the bones of your vertebrae.
Ironically, standing desks can promote inactivity just as much as chairs and tables. If you stand up all day, you’re almost as sedentary as someone who sits the entire day, even if you feel more tired.
Most of the adverse effects of sitting for long periods come from a sedentary lifestyle. Your cardiovascular system doesn't get the stimulation it needs, so it weakens. Your metabolic processes become unbalanced, and you start to accumulate a harmful amount of body fat.
The point of the advice to stand up often at work is to keep your body moving. The short bursts of physical activity can stave off many of the detrimental health effects without interrupting your workflow. However, standing desks don't necessarily encourage you to move more. They only keep you in a standing position.
Standing consumes more calories than sitting as it uses more muscles to stabilize your posture. Nevertheless, the increased energy expenditure isn’t much. Standing for 4 hours consumes around 100 to 200 calories. However, you can probably burn the same amount of calories by taking a half-hour brisk walk.
Of course, any calorie burn matters. The danger here is when people start to neglect their need to incorporate light cardio activities into their routine. As they think that standing all day burns many calories, they might avoid climbing stairs or walking around. By not doing these activities, they quickly offset the additional calories they use up from using a standing desk.
The veins in your lower body work overtime when you sit or stand for several hours. Standing up increases the vertical distance between your feet and your heart. Because of the significant height difference, your blood has to cross a larger gravity gradient to return to your heart. Your veins need to support the weight of your blood and prevent backflow from occurring, but they can only do so much.
Without doing any interventions, your venous walls will bulge and weaken over time. Venous insufficiency causes poor blood circulation to your limbs, leading to pain and swelling. Varicose veins may worsen, which is another sign of venous insufficiency.
A severe consequence of venous insufficiency is the formation of blood clots. As blood pools in your lower limbs, they can form clots inside some of your veins, further reducing blood circulation.
If these clots break off, they can travel up your body and block the pulmonary arteries that deliver blood to your lungs. The clots themselves can cause pain and trigger swelling within the affected leg.
Standing desks can affect cognition and brain performance because of poor systemic circulation of the blood. The fatigue that occurs distracts people and ruins their attention. Regardless, people who use standing desks may find that their reaction speed is lower.
While not critical for most work applications, fast reaction times are still useful for overall productivity and safety, especially in dangerous conditions. Leaders need to check if standing desks are worth the slower processing speed.
A more dangerous effect of standing desks is that they can distract people from work. Having a constant ache from your legs and lower back can make it hard to focus on what you’re doing. People may also be unfamiliar with doing work while standing.
Lower concentration levels lead to a higher risk of making mistakes, many of which can negatively impact the organization.
Most of the detrimental health effects of standing desks occur because people think of them as a substitute for healthier habits. Even if employees use one, they should remember the basics of workplace wellness. They should still stand and walk around now and then. They should also practice good posture and incorporate physical movement in the activities they do.
Standing desks can harm employees when people start to exaggerate the health benefits of these desks. People need to stop being distracted by these and build other healthier habits instead.
Also read How To Use Sit-Stand Desks Correctly
Other Reasons to Avoid Standing Desks
It’s not only the health of employees that are stake. Standing desks also have other disadvantages that can make it hard for many companies to adopt them.
Due to the current trends for standing desks, manufacturers are putting a premium on these specialized tables. Expect your company to spend more on each unit. The cost is high if your company wants to replace all of its current tables.
Another problem with switching to standing chairs is that it makes your current desk redundant. This problem can be significant for companies who already have fully stocked offices.
Notably, you would still require chairs even if you switch to standing desks. Employees need to take breaks to avoid many of the health risks associated with long periods of standing. Hence, companies will still have to invest in good chairs despite the presence of standing desks.
Standing desks cannot be used by people with disability, especially those that have spinal or leg injuries. Even if they can stand, they might not have the endurance to maintain this posture for several hours at a time.
Companies might want to make exceptions to PWD employees through unique accommodations. For instance, they might be allowed to use standard desks or other equipment that they can use. However, executives would now have to plan accordingly to accommodate everyone, considering increasing complexity and rising costs.
As employees age, they tend to lose their endurance and strength. Old employees might be unsuited for standing desks since they might tire more quickly. The fatigue that this equipment causes can also make it harder for older workers to concentrate on their work
Older employees might also have health conditions that limit their ability to stand, such as arthritis. People with this illness may receive severe pain whenever they put pressure on their joints. As a result, they are unlikely to perform well at work when they use standing desks.
An intervention to reduce the adverse health effects of standing desks is to change the flooring. Ideally, employees would want a sturdy surface that can alleviate the stress on their feet from all the standing. Of course, modifying the carpet will further add to the expenses that come with switching to standing desks.
Companies may opt not to change flooring or refuse to use carpets. However, sticking to hard flooring may add a small health risk.
When employees sit, most of their weight rests on their buttocks. When a person stands, all of their weight now rests on their feet. Employees who used to wear ill-fitting shoes will quickly find themselves suffering from foot sores and calluses.
Employees would have to switch shoes to reduce pressure points and ensure that there's sufficient support for their feet. However, they might complain if the company requires them to shoulder the expense needed to acquire a new pair. If the company agrees to shoulder the cost, expect the company to incur higher charges.
Proper posture for standing desk users requires that the arms be close to level with the desk. Ideally, the head should also lean slightly forward without any significant bending. However, since laptops have their display connected to the keyboard, it becomes hard to accomplish the appropriate posture. Users might find that their wrists and arm remain crooked or that their head leans forward excessively.
Lousy posture can injure joints, cause pain, and make it harder to work. Laptop users are at high risk for bad posture when they switch to standing desks.
Some employees might lack the endurance to stand all day or to keep their posture stable while they type or write. Hence, these workers will take more breaks, with longer intervals, to be able to rest.
While frequent breaks are beneficial to well-being, excessive resting can cause decreases in productivity. Too many interruptions can disrupt concentration and make it harder to resume working.
Since standing desks are recently making a comeback, there might be only a few suppliers that can cater to the location of your company. A smaller playing field for suppliers can lead to lower competition, which can further translate to higher prices and more inferior customer support.
To simplify the transition to standing desks, many companies are considering adjustable desks that can be installed on existing tables to create elevated surfaces. The problem with this is that they aren't as stable as traditional or full-on standing desks. Many of them are prone to toppling over, especially if there are many items on the counter. You wouldn't be too happy when your desk tips over and you coffee spills on you or ruins your laptop.
Many employees are more experienced in using traditional desks and chairs. Introducing standing desks can surprise many workers, especially since they have to get used to the new biomechanics. Without the proper support, your employees might see less job satisfaction and higher stress levels.
Standing desks were meant to solve many of the health issues surrounding the typical setup at work where people sit all day with minimal breaks. However, these specialized desks also introduce problems of their own. Almost all of their benefits can come through other means, such as by taking frequent breaks that include light activities such as walking or stretching.
Are standing desks all bad? Not really. When used correctly, they can provide health benefits. The point of this article is to emphasize that these tools should be used carefully instead of being applied as a magic solution to employee wellness issues.
Why is ergonomics even all that important? Ergonomics ensures that employees can work in comfort, but comfort isn’t just the end goal here. We have written an article, "Why is Ergonomics Important in the Workplace? (Effects, Equipment, and Costs of Ergonomics)," that explains more about the importance of ergonomics.
You must be logged in to post a comment.