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Sitting/standing working: what's its real impact?

Posted by Bakker Elkhuisen on


Sitting/standing working is becoming increasingly popular. But what are the actual effects of switching between working standing up and sitting down? Does it only affect your health or does it have other effects? Its impact has been researched by conducting several surveys of call center employees.

Process optimization and narrow targets

Process optimization and narrow targets improve the performance of call center employees. But cutbacks are also increasing the pressure placed on call center employees. How can more be gained from call center employees in a way that is sustainable and enjoyable?
The standard approach in call centers is precise measurement of the number of calls handled per hour and customer satisfaction with the service delivered. Departments are given narrow targets to deliver the expected quality while staying within budget. Efficiency and customer satisfaction can be improved by optimizing IT systems and processes.
Further improvements in performance are possible by improving concentration and creativity, by making it possible to deal with emotions more easily and by improving the overall work ethic.

Improving concentration and creativity
It is possible to improve concentration and creativity through the inclusion of recovery periods during work and by moving around during work (Oppezzo & Schwarz, 2014; Chang et al., 2014). For call center staff, however, it is usually not possible to leave their seats.
An alternative way to produce movement while conducting telephone conversations is the use of sit-stand tables. The advantage of these is that people literally activate themselves by standing up. This has the effect that employees stay sharper and can work faster (Ebara et al., 2008; Choi, 2010).
In addition, people talk differently when they stand up. In the standing position, call center employees can move their whole bodies and are able to deal with emotions more easily as a result (Cakir, 2016).

Figure 1: the effect of alternating between sitting and standing on call center employees’ energy levels. Source: Chau et al., 2016.

Work ethic and productivity

An important predictor of work performance is engagement with the work. Recent research has shown that the work ethic is weaker in workplaces where employees sit for long periods (Munir et al., 2015). Would it be possible to improve call center staff’s performance by allowing them to alternate between working standing up and sitting down?
A number of recent surveys do indeed confirm the positive effects of call center employees switching between working standing and sitting. Josephine Chau from the University of Sydney found that the introduction of sit-stand tables resulted in 38% more employees maintaining a high energy level throughout the working day.
Gregory Garrett and his colleagues at the University of Texas made sit-stand tables available to a group of call center employees. After one month they were 23% more productive than their seated colleagues and the difference increased to 53% in the following five months (see Figure 2). Productivity was measured by the number of successfully handled calls per hour.

Figure 2: increase in the number of successfully handled calls from March to August. At the beginning of March, a group of call center employees was given sit-stand tables. Source: Garrett et al., 2016.

Side effects of sitting/standing working
As well as the positive effects sit-stand tables have on performance, they also contribute towards comfortable working conditions and staying healthy. Using sit-stand tables reduces sitting time and also, therefore, reduces the risk of musculoskeletal complaints, type-2 diabetes and heart and vascular disease.
The challenge is in finding the optimal way for employees to use sit-stand tables and gain the maximum benefit in terms of performance and health. Low-profile software reminders can help to ensure that the sit-stand tables are used effectively (Donath et al.).

The encouragement of more movement among call center employees offers the potential to improve their performance and working conditions in a sustainable way. Sit-stand tables can be a practical solution for promoting physical movement in call centers.
Want to explore the effects of sitting/standing working in your organisation? 

Contact us about the possibilities, right up to a pilot scheme to investigate the effects of sitting/standing working on a group of employees.