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Workplace standing can be socially uncomfortable

By Reuters - Aug 02,2018 - Last updated at Aug 02,2018

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Office workers who knew that standing during the day could keep them healthier still felt awkward when they stood during meetings while their colleagues were seated, a UK study found. 

While other studies have explored whether workers consider the idea of standing in meetings acceptable, the new research tried to understand the experience of workers who actually did it, said co-author Benjamin Gardner of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. 

A lack of organisational, environmental and social support for standing — including adjustable sit-stand workstations, standing-only meeting rooms and high stools and desks — can make it feel awkward for workers to put the standing ideal into practice, he noted. 

“Although many organisations are supportive of the message to ‘sit less and move more’, this physical set-up encourages sitting and implicitly portrays it as normative — and standing as a departure from the norm,” Gardner said in an e-mail. “Our study is important because it shows how people feel when they break the sitting norm.” 

For the study, the researchers recruited 25 desk-based employees from three different UK universities between January and April of 2016. Each participant identified three upcoming workplace meetings of different sizes in which they would stand whenever they wanted and for as long as they wanted. A researcher observed these meetings and interviewed participants afterward about their experiences. Each participant received a voucher for £50 (about $66). 

In the interviews, participants reported feeling “awkward”, “disconcerted” or “stupid” when they were standing while others were sitting. They also worried that they would be viewed as “attention seekers” or that they were trying to take control away from the meeting hosts. For this reason, many participants ended up standing at the edge of the room, even though that sometimes left them feeling less involved in the meeting. 

For those who were hosting or presenting at a meeting, however, standing sometimes boosted their confidence, the study team reports in PLOS One. 

Some of these results, such as employees finding it “culturally unacceptable” to stand during meetings, are not surprising, said Gemma Ryde, a physical activity and health researcher at the University of Stirling in Scotland who was not involved in the study. But the research also highlighted unexpected findings, such as how standing might impact power dynamics during meetings and how it can affect employees’ attention and engagement, she said in an e-mail. 

Standing during the workday is viewed as a potential way to reduce the amount of time that people spend sitting, Gardner said. Sitting too long has been linked with various adverse health outcomes, including obesity, heart disease, cancer and poor mental health, he said. 

Office workers are at particular risk, he said, because they spend around two-thirds of the work day sitting. 

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