Is standing at work healthier than sitting? Yes, but even employees with a sit-stand desk don’t want to be on their feet all day.
Maybe you’ve asked the wrong question in the first place. Maybe you should instead be asking, “How can I make sitting and standing healthier for my workers?”
By now, a million studies have shown that improved health and safety while sitting at work is one of the most important factors in creating a safe workplace and implementing proper ergonomics.
While too much sitting in front of a computer isn’t good, many jobs demand it. To avoid injury and illness, embracing workplace interventions to reduce sitting at work is important. But for those true 9-5 desk jobs, we’ve got help in the form of the five tips below.
Investing in ergonomically designed workstations -- along with an effort to help employees make the most of them -- can give your bottom line a boost while increasing employee satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity. Enforcing good posture in the workplace can save an organization with 1,000 workers as much as $1 million to $7 million a year.
Optimizing Employee Health and Safety While Sitting at Work
No matter how much time your workers spend at the desk, there are several best practices you can enforce to enjoy the ROI and the benefits of ergonomics in the workplace? Here are a few:
- Proper placement of the monitor(s)
- Educating on the optimum height of the keyboard and distance from the desk
- Use of footrests
- Encouraging employees to add movement to their day
- Educating employees on their equipment
1. Position the Computer Screen Perfectly
Don’t look up. That’s the one clear rule about computer screen positioning.
Computer users should keep their eye level either at the top of the monitor or, at most, 2-3 in. below it. An adjustable monitor arm or lift mechanism can help employees keep their monitor at the proper height.
Make sure the user places the screen one of these three ways:
- For a single-monitor setup: centered in front of the user
- For two monitors used equally: centered in front of the user as much as their size allows
- For two-monitor setups where the user predominantly looks at one over the other: center the primary screen in front, with the other off to the side and angled toward the user
2. Get OCD With the Keyboards
Who’d have thought that finding the right spot for your keyboard could be so complicated? It requires consideration of:
- The user’s height
- The “centered-ness” of the keyboard relative to the user
- Distance between the user and the keyboard
- Distance from the chair to the keyboard
The purpose behind all these considerations is to attain a position that eliminates the need for twisting or straining. Done correctly, adjustments will result in:
- Arms bent 90˚ with wrists descending slightly
- Keyboard centered in front of the user
- Arms hanging down comfortably to use the keyboard
- Chair placed neither too close nor too far away from the keyboard to avoid slouching
There are some ergonomic tools available to make it easier for employees to make the right adjustments. For example, consider an ergonomic keyboard tray with a slight negative (downward) tilt to promote proper wrist placement.
3. Give the Feet a Rest
The “lowly” foot rest can actually be a real asset for health and safety while sitting at work.
An adjustable ergonomic foot rest allows the user to change position while maintaining good posture. When you sit up straight, your feet are on a flat footrest. When you lean back, the foot rest adjusts to the right angle.
Foot rests are especially useful for short people whose feet might otherwise not touch the floor or might require pointing the toes to find support. Neither option is good for the body.
4. Keep Employees Moving
The more employees can move around -- ideally getting up every 30 minutes to move around and take their eyes off the screen -- the better.
The solution can be as simple as encouraging them to walk around during breaks or setting up shop at a different location in the office for an hour or two.
Even if they prefer to be at their regular workstations for the full shift, there are ways to help them be more active. Take, for example, the adjustable-height desk. This increasingly popular workplace intervention reduces the number of hours a week an employee is forced to sit. The desk can operate either manually or mechanically.
Just getting up off the chair a few times a day can make a real difference in energy level and the health of one’s back!
5. Be a Teacher
Even the best-designed ergonomic workstation can’t do its job unless the user knows how to use it.
When investing in improving your office’s ergonomic setup, set aside time to train your employees on using any new equipment. Don’t assume they already know best practices -- there’s a reason why so many older workers have carpal tunnel syndrome and back issues.
Educating employees doesn’t take much time, and it’s well worth the effort.
Keeping Your Employees Healthy & Happy
Our advice for employee health and safety for desk jobs comes down to two things:
- Give them the right ergonomic equipment
- Educate on best practices, and enforce them
Buying the best ergonomic office equipment may seem like a huge money sink. But remember, the benefits of ergonomics in the workplace are felt 1, 5, and even 25 years from now when your veteran employees are still healthy and happy.
Interested in improving your workplace's ergonomics but not sure where to get started? Download our free manager's equipment below:
(Editor's note: This article was originally published in May 2020 and was recently updated.)