Although our attention’s been elsewhere for some time, remarkable substantial findings have been published regarding the life-changing deleterious effects of prolonged knowledge worker static postures. While the news media was feverishly covering the pandemic, this new definitive news was published by the American Medical Association.
It’s already well understood among preeminent employers how prolonged knowledge worker static posture (at the office and home-office) erodes employee comfort, satisfaction, productivity and undermines your Employee Value Proposition as an employer.
This major study in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) confirms a clear link between cancer rates in adults and prolonged static postures. We take pause considering how many people over 30 years old we employ.
The lead author Dr. Susan Gilchrist, said in a statement “Our findings reinforce that it’s important to ‘sit less and move more.”
In a CNN article covering the study Too Much Sitting Raises Your Risk For Cancer, Study Finds, Dr. Gilchrist said “I tell them to consider standing up for 5 minutes every hour at work. It might not sound like a lot, but this study tells us even light activity has cancer survival benefits” said Gilchrist, who leads MD Anderson’s Healthy Heart Program.
The study involved more than 8,000 people between 2009 and 2013 where none of the participants had cancer when the study began. Gilchrist and the researchers found there was a 82% higher risk of dying from cancer for the most sedentary people compared to the least sedentary people.
But Don’t Stand All Day…
It’s also well-understood, however, how chronic standing is also well-known to be unhealthy, contributing to lower extremity swelling and venous pooling, higher incidence of varicose veins, lower extremity discomfort and fatigue, lower back pain, and general body and mental fatigue.
An related study published in the journal Ergonomics concluded “Standing is being used to replace sitting by office workers; however, there are health risks associated with prolonged standing. In a laboratory study…prolonged standing discomfort increased (all body areas), reaction time and mental state deteriorated…“
Clearly, there needs to be some balance between sitting and standing during our work, however, should the primary issue really be about “sitting versus standing” or about “reducing static postures and encouraging movement“?
One of the fundamentally wrong messages employees may have heard is that standing in one place, rather than sitting in one place, will help one lose extra pounds, ward off negative effects of too much sitting and improve our hearts. When researching it, you quickly find that the Standing Movement’s pundits are really promoting ‘movement’ rather than static postures.
We have many very useful and adjustable choices in the office furniture and equipment marketplace today. Adjustable-height work surfaces (sit/stand), for example, when used with anti-fatigue mats, very definitely should be recognized as very useful pieces of equipment, so long as they are used. When not used, however, they can be a tremendous waste of money and tragic in that they could have helped to prevent discomfort and eventual recordable injuries.
So what are the best ways to ensure proper long term use of the equipment and furniture you’ve purchased and attain maximum value? The answers all come from understanding human behavior and the Novelty Effect.
Is The Value In ‘The Tool’ or In ‘The Use of The Tool’ or Both?
The way in which we conduct ourselves is termed our behavior and helping employees adopt a regimen of periodic movement during their workday is a matter of behavioral change. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles and to stimulate removal of natural waste byproducts from muscles and tissue. Substantial research shows that building a variety of movements into each day is a key in reversing the deleterious effects of static postures while sitting or standing.
So what happens, for example, when we deliver a highly-adjustable new office chair or shiny new sit/stand work surface to an employee? Of course, they’ll be excited and revel in its newness for a few weeks but, longer term, do we expect them to abandon their current behaviors developed over years? Perhaps we might give them a product brochure or a website or pay even more money to bring in consultants to give employees some training or a pep talk?
So what happens after the honeymoon novelty phase of having anything new passes and there’s no continual reinforcement? You already know the answer.
Changing Behavior Requires Behavior Change Principles
For more than a decade, a fundamental understanding within office ergonomics has been how the process of “mitigating risk factors” includes interventions of various types (e.g. using adjustable workstation components, workstation analysis, adjustment, employee training, etc…) which are all singularly purposed to foster healthy employee behaviors such as working in neutral postures, moving about during your workday and taking microbreaks while working and periodic gentle stretching.
Each of these interventions are important in setting the stage for the employee to “begin their behavior change journey“, however, it will be an unfulfilled hope and misunderstanding to then expect that behavior change will be automatic and appear on its own after that point in time.
Almost 100 years of Applied Behavioral Analysis data clearly teaches that without operant conditioning and continual reinforcement at the point-of-use, then long term behavior change is at best remote and unlikely in any human experience other than immediate life-threatening scenarios.