Less sitting time improves office staff’s wellbeing and work engagement

A new study has found that reducing sitting time improves office workers’ wellbeing and boosts their work engagement. Researchers are urging office staff to ‘stand up for their health.’ Desk-bound office workers need to become more physically active in the workplace.

The researchers, from the UK and Australia, wrote about their study and findings in The BMJ (citation below). BMJ stands for British Medical Journal.

Several studies have shown that sitting down for extended periods can lead to poor health. Even people who exercise regularly but sit down for long periods have a greater risk of developing health problems.

The authors wanted to investigate simple solutions for reducing the amount of time office workers remain sitting.

Reducing sitting time – height-adjustable workstations

The researchers found that giving staff height-adjustable workstations reduced sitting time. It also increased standing time while at work. The office workers subsequently enjoyed improved wellbeing and work benefits.

The office workers also received posters, attended a brief education seminar, and provided sitting behavior feedback (i.e., the SMArt Work programme).

Less Sitting time in the office
In an Abstract that preceded the main article in the journal, the authors concluded: “SMArT Work successfully reduced sitting time over the short, medium, and longer term, and positive changes were observed in work-related and psychological health.” (Image: adapted from www.standdesk.co)

SMArt Work study

The Stand More AT Work study or SMArt Work study involved 146 office employees. They all worked at the University Hospitals Of Leicester NHS trust in England. The researchers randomly assigned them to one of two groups:

After one year, the Intervention Group participants spent 83 minutes less sitting down per day than those in the Control Group.

The participants wore a small device on their thigh. This device measured their sitting, standing, and movement time.

They also completed questionnaires on their job satisfaction, fatigue, wellbeing, and sickness absence. They also answered questions regarding work engagement and musculoskeletal issues.

Less sitting time – several benefits

Dr. Charlotte Edwardson, an Associate Professor at the University of Leicester’s Department of Health Sciences, said:

“Those who received the SMArT Work programme reported improvements in their work performance, work dedication and engagement, quality of life and reduced levels of sickness presenteeism, feelings of fatigue and musculoskeletal issues, such as lower back pain.

Dr. Fehmidah Munir, a Reader in Health Psychology at Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, said:

For people who work in an office environment, sitting down for most of the day is very common. We know this is bad for their health, but people feel restricted to this posture because of the job and the environment. We have shown that it is possible to significantly reduce the time spent sitting whilst at work with the SMArT Work programme.”

“Presenteeism, together with absenteeism, is estimated to cost UK employers more than £30 billion annually. Approximately nine million working days are lost to musculoskeletal problems. So, the SMArT Work programme could help employers make headway into these two issues.”

Rolling out SMArT Work resources

Dr. Sophie O’Connell, a Research Associate at Leicester’s Hospitals, explained:

“In response to the study findings and the fantastic feedback from the participants who received the SMArT Work programme, we are preparing the SMArT Work resources for roll out. The resources will be freely available on the programme website very soon for organisations to access. We want other people to be able to benefit from this programme.”

Judy Queally, a study participant, said:

“Before I started the study I suffered from a back problem. Even having been to my GP and being sent for a couple of x-rays, I still couldn’t get to the bottom of it. Since being part of the SMArT Work study, I have the flexibility to stand whenever I want, and I can honestly say I have no back problems at all.”

Joanne Tyler-Fantom, Deputy Director of Human Resources at Leicester’s Hospitals said:

“The findings of the study are certainly very interesting. As a Trust, we will be keeping a close eye on future developments to see how we can integrate its suggestions into our Staff Health and Well-being Strategy.”

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded the study (project number PR-R5-0213-25004) with support from the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Centre.


Effectiveness of the Stand More AT (SMArT) Work intervention: cluster randomised controlled trial,” Charlotte L Edwardson, Tom Yates, Stuart J H Biddle, Melanie J Davies, David W Dunstan, Dale W Esliger, Laura J Gray, Benjamin Jackson, Sophie E O’Connell, Ghazala Waheed, and Fehmidah Munir. BMJ 2018; 363:k3870. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k3870 (Published 10 October 2018).