Behavior change is difficult. We all know what we would like to do, but remembering and following through can often be a challenge.
I rolled out a walking program where one of the hardest obstacles was getting people to remember to use their wearable fitness tracking devices. Every week I heard the drama of people forgetting, washing and losing their device as well as excuses as to why exercise was impossible.
The employees who set morning reminders to use the devices and pre-scheduled their walking times were the most successful. I am talking about the people who walked everyday at lunch with a group or who ran on certain days in the park after work. These were the ones who seem to keep the habit of walking or running in their schedule long after the program ended. I don’t necessarily think they wanted it more, I think the way they realistically integrated it into their schedule was just more effective for them. It essentially became part of their daily routine.
Changing from sit to stand is a change from how many of us have worked our entire lives. The concept is simple, but getting employees to buy-in on this notion and use the desk in the best possible way can be a challenge.
For 15 years I have worked with universities, ergonomists and facility personnel working with sit to stand desks. There is one thing I am sure of – you cannot just give a person a new desk, walk away and expect them to use it the way you intended. With any ergonomic tool, it is only truly ergonomic if it is used in an ergonomic way.
The question is how do we get the majority of employees motivated to use the desks properly?
Some corporations have implied that less than 10% of their sit-stand desk users are actually using their desks. This is a problem that has been reported globally, even in Scandinavian countries where the majority of the working population have had these types of desks for years.
I recommend a focus on these three things to improve your usage rates:
Employees need to be intrinsically motivated to stand and sit. Sounds easy, but why people would want to use the desk is very diverse. You really have to tap into the “what’s in it for me?” for many different types of people.
Many will go straight to calorie burn for motivation. Truth be told I am very skeptical of this as a motivator. I understand this is what people want to see and therefore most interventions have calorie burn included as part of their package. The last thing any corporate wellness professional wants however, is an employee thinking they have burned off enough calories standing to eat more high fat, high sugar junk food. If this is what motivates them so be it, but please help them be realistic about their expectations. I assume every researcher in the field will confirm that you do burn more calories standing, however determining how much per individual is a complex science. In the end there are far more benefits that are better scientifically measurable.
I try to focus on all the great benefits for users that they are likely to experience as they break away from long bouts of sitting (or standing): more energy, more comfort through reduced muscle fatigue, easier to manage anxiety and stress, better circulation, and improved metabolism.
Training on static postures and the key benefits of alternating your position throughout the day is really important so they know how to properly use their desk. If you swap all day sitting for all day standing you probably won’t have more energy or comfort.
As I said before, changing from sit to stand is a change from how many have worked their entire lives. Getting people to advance to the point where they are standing anywhere from 8 to 24 times a day is something that needs to be worked up to for the majority of people.
Users need to start and advance at their own pace. Many may not even have the leg muscle strength to support their body weight standing in a static position for that long. Others may need to be coached to take sitting breaks.
Research has shown that for behavior change to be the most effective and sustainable it should contain these components: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. I would also say that the person having some control over their goals and plan is key as well. You can guide them, but there seems to be more commitment when the pace and goals come from them. I came to terms with the fact that some people may stand 2 times a day (not counting bathroom breaks etc…) for no more than 10 minutes.
I think the more people feel the results then the more apt they are to increase their goals. I have seen this several times – the skeptic now has proclaimed they could not work somewhere that does not have a sit stand desk.
Here is a short list to build upon when coaching people to adopt a sit to stand lifestyle:
Setting Specific, Measurable Goals
- How long can you commit to standing* each work day?
- How many different times are you willing to stand*?
- Why do you want to do this? What do you think you will gain?
Reviewing Goals to Make Sure they are Achievable and Time-based
- Are these goals realistic to how you work?
- Ultimately what would you like to work up to?
- Can you commit to following this plan for 4 weeks?
- Are you willing to review your progress in 4 weeks?
*For some this may be sit.
For the last four years I have worked with a couple of companies on tools that help remind users to change positions. Some are hardware solutions and some are software solutions. I highly recommend some intervention to help remind people about their commitment. Even if they just use a basic alarm setting on their computer it will help to have the awareness there during the day.
Even those with the best of intentions can forget to use their desks when they get caught up in what they are doing. The goal is to make sitting and standing throughout the day part of their daily routine.
This article was originally published to LinkedIn.
Written by Ann Hall, Vice President of Workplace Ergonomics and Marketing at Ergo Squad