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Height-Adjustable Desks – Facts and Figures

Height adjustable desks and workbenches are increasingly popular products. They help to tackle the root cause of a lot of work-related health problems for office workers – the sedentary nature of having to sit in one place for the full work day. 

If the higher price tag of adjustable desks is putting you off, take a few minutes to digest the facts and figures below and learn about their benefits.

Why Do We Need Adjustable Desks?

According to the Office For National Statistics, in 2021 there were 32.5 million people in the workforce in the UK.

While there are no hard and fast figures on ‘office jobs’, removing those sectors that are clearly not office-based (agriculture and fishing, mining and construction, for example) leaves around 14 million who might reasonably be expected to sit for at least four hours a day. 

Is sitting down all day a problem? Numerous studies say that it is – with some reports suggesting that sitting is the new smoking.

How long do office workers spend seated?

Time office workers spend seated

Office workers overwhelmingly spend their time sitting down – 81% spend at least four hours a day sitting, and this equates to 67 sedentary days every year. 

  • Men and women who sit for a total of more than 23 hours a week are 64% more likely to die from heart disease 
  • Even 30 minutes of exercise is not enough to counter the effects of sitting all day at work 
  • A study from the BBC and the University of Chester concluded that standing for just three hours a day is equivalent to running 10 marathons a year – or roughly 260 miles 
  • Standing for most of the day can burn up to 30,000 more calories per year than sitting – roughly eight pounds (half a stone) of fat 

This study from Australia showed that for individuals over 45 years of age, sitting for more than eleven hours a day gives a 40% increased likelihood of dying in the next three years, compared to those that sit for less than four hours per day. 

Office workers in the United Kingdom spend an average of between 70% and 85% of their time at work sitting down. 

It’s not just about cardiovascular problems though – staying in one position all day also leads to musculoskeletal issues, with back problems in particular having a big effect on employees: 

  • Over 15 million sick days were recorded in 2013 due to backache 
  • 3.4 million people (15% of the total population of the UK) have had to take more than a month off work because of back problems 
  • An estimated 6 million UK residents have undiagnosed back problems
Obesity rates vs job type

Source: ourworldindata.org (Obesity statistics) and ons.gov.uk (Job type statistics)

Like many countries in the world, the UK is getting fatter. From 1975 to 2016, the number of adults considered obese has risen from 10% to 30% of the population. At the same time, fewer people are working in physical jobs like mining, agriculture and vehicle repairs whereas employment in IT, finance and other service industries is on the rise. While there are many other reasons for the rising obesity levels, the fact is that more of us are becoming less active for more of the day. So, the we can do to help burn more calories and reduce heart disease the better!

What about home/remote/hybrid workers?

Of course, it is not just about the professional office. Working from home is more common than at any other time in history – with a huge 43.1% of people working exclusively from home according to this study in 2020 (the rise due in large part to the pandemic, of course). 

You might think that this would have a positive impact on health and wellbeing, but unfortunately it can actually make us even more sedentary – people get up in the morning and almost immediately sit down, not moving much for the remainder of the day. 

What effect do height-adjustable desks have?

Discomfort and poor health are directly linked to reduced productivity and employee happiness. Sitting still at a desk for sustained periods is bad for your health. Therefore – sitting at a desk all day leads to reduced productivity and engagement. 

  • It is hard to quantify the exact change in productivity – one study suggests that these types of desks give a boost of between 10% and 20%  
  • A 20% increase in productivity essentially means that you are getting six days of labour for the price of five – so an investment in height-adjustable desks clearly pays dividends. 

A University of Leicester study into the effects of sitting gave participants height-adjustable desks and compared them with a control group who had ‘normal’ office setups. After 12 months, the group with height-adjustable desks were sitting for an average of 80 minutes less per day. The results also indicated consistent improvements in: 

  • Work engagement 
  • Job performance 
  • Occupational fatigue 
  • Musculoskeletal issues 
  • Sickness absence 
  • Quality of life 

A year-long peer reviewed study into the benefits of implementing adjustable height desks concluded the following: 

  • 65% of users stated that they were more productive, had better concentration, were more active, awake and energetic 
  • 65% of users reported that their health outside of work was also positively affected 
  • 47% experienced significantly reduced back, neck and shoulder pain and discomfort 
  • Overall, there was a 17% reduction in time spent sitting 
Adjustable desk users survey

The data shows that, even though the actual use of the height-adjustable desk in standing mode was lower than you might expect (at only 17%), the health and productivity benefits were quite impressive – you can draw the conclusion that even a slight increase in the time spent standing might boost those benefits even further. 

  • Sitting is estimated to cost the NHS around £700 million every year 
  • Cardiovascular diseases, type-2 diabetes and premature death are more common among those who sit for long periods every day 
  • Potential return on investment of £3 per £1 spent on height-adjustable desks and informing staff of the issues 

Adjustable-Height Desk Use Around the World

The problems associated with sitting are not unique to the UK. Scandinavian countries (coincidentally typically ranked among the happiest in the world) have been implementing adjustable desks to counter health problems for a while now – indeed, in Denmark it is a legal requirement for companies to offer employees the option of using one. 

In a German study of desk-based workers, it was found that 16% of the people surveyed already had access to a height-adjustable desk, with the expectation that this number would increase over the coming years.

An American study concluded that using sit-stand desks led to a reduction in back pains and problems, and an increase in sleep quality. Notably – of the test subjects in this study, 100% of them requested to keep the adjustable-height desk, so employees are definitely on board with the idea. 

Famous Adjustable-Height Desk Users

If you use a height-adjustable desk, or switch between a standing and sitting desk, then you’re in good company – famous individuals throughout history have chosen to stand rather than sit (and they didn’t even have the easy access to adjustable desks). These people include: 

  • Winston Churchill (writing his books and his speeches) 
  • Ernest Hemingway (authoring his Nobel-winning work) 
  • Benjamin Franklin (designing, inventing, writing) 
  • Leonardo da Vinci (painting, designing, inventing) 
  • Charles Dickens (writing all of his works) 
  • Napoleon Bonaparte (drawing up battle plans) 
  • Thomas Jefferson (while drafting the Declaration of Independence)