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Additional Concerns About the Habitual Use of Active Workstations

Kugathasan, Thiffya Arabi, MSc; Lecot, François, MSc; Mathieu, Marie-Eve, PhD

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: November 2018 - Volume 60 - Issue 11 - p e625
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001434

School of Kinesiology and Exercise Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

School of Kinesiology and Exercise Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Sainte-Justine University Health Center, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Address correspondence to: Marie-Eve Mathieu, PhD, École de kinesiologie et des sciences de l’activité physique, Faculté de Médecine, Université de Montréal, P.O. Box 6128, Downtown Station, Montreal, QC H3C 3J7, Canada (

The authors declare no other conflicts of interest.

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To the Editor:

Office workers spend more than 60% of their time at work in a seated position1,2; thus, strategies to reduce sedentary time are important. Active workstations have been shown to be a potential solution to improve health3 without negatively affecting productivity parameters.4 However, most studies have been conducted in a laboratory setting and might not apply to current workplaces.

Interestingly, a recent study by Mazzotta et al5 published in Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine evaluated sit-stand desk users in an occupational setting. They reported that in the workplace, most of the participants felt more productive (61%), had better posture (50%), and less musculoskeletal pain (50%) when using a sit-stand station. There was also a positive correlation between the time spent standing at the workstation and the overall standing time at work/d (r = 0.87; P < 0.001). Participants did, however, report that the following factors limited their use: unsuitable footwear, manual work involved in transitioning the desk between sit and stand position, and reduced workspace. Moreover, leg pain, back pain, paper work, and tasks involving concentration were the reasons highlighted by the participants for transitioning back from stand to sit positions.5

In our opinion, three complementary aspects deserve attention. First, work contexts are important to consider. Having a specific computer program required to complete daily work installed only at an active workstation would be a beneficial strategy for encouraging employees to use these types of workstations. In fact, in a recent implementation project that we conducted in Protégez-Vous offices, 67% responded that the reason why they worked at an active workstation was to use a program that was only available at such stations. Twenty-five percent performed other type of work that required a computer (reading an electronic document or surfing the internet) and 8.3% used Microsoft Office, while none performed paperwork at the active desks. Although not statistically significant, those who used the specific program used the active desk twice longer than those who used them for other types of work. This could be seen as “nudging,” which has been explored by Venema et al6 in the goal of increasing the standing time at sit-stand desks at work.

Secondly, it is vital to study what happens in the long run to workers invited to use active desks, as Mazzotta et al5 evaluated for only 1 week. At Protégez-Vous, only 38% of responders reported a higher use of active workstations at their last use compared with their first use.

Thirdly, there is an interest in other types of active desks when examining the habitual use of active workstations, since workers at Protégez-Vous used the different types of active desks (cycling and standing desks) that were provided to them.

At this stage, more studies about workplaces are required. In addition to examining health and productivity outcomes, the characteristics of workers getting involved in the use of active desks should be considered in order to draw a more complete portrait of who initiates and who maintains active desk use. In Protégez-Vous, only 63% of employees tried the active workstations at least once, and those who started earlier did not have a greater average usage time compared with those who started using the workstations after 3 months. Moreover, installing an active workstation that is common to everyone could be a downside for its utilization. As reported by our participants, this setup requires them to move all their work material from their conventional seated desk to the active workstation. Perhaps, different strategies to successfully implement active workstations should be further explored. As reported by Mazzotta et al5, workers have limited knowledge of workstations. They also reported that participants claimed to not receiving any educational materials (61%), written instructions (56%), or occupational information (72%) concerning the use of active workstations.

In Protégez-Vous, 74% felt that they were sufficiently equipped (scored more than 5 on a 7-point scale) to use an active workstation, but claimed that they required more instructions on how to use them properly. To reduce these barriers, education on how to use them ergonomically and on duration of usage (work/rest ratio) should be provided to employees as one of the strategies to ensure successful implementation of active desks.

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