Study: Treadmill Desks Improve Productivity

We’ve seen first hand that moving more throughout the day improves work productivity, but scientific studies making the direct connection have been scarce. Most reports on the subject are anecdotal– that is, until now. A year-long study recently concluded that allowing employees to walk on treadmills at their desks improves work performance. This is great news for us, but it’s also great news for you. It means that there is now a proven way to bolster your health and your work productivity at the same time. Managers, pay attention!

Employees at Salo LLC have been using treadmills for years.

Employees at Salo LLC have been using treadmills for years.

Dr. Avner Ben-Ner, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, led this study in a mid-sized financial services firm in St. Paul. The firm bought 40 treadmill desks and asked for volunteers.

More than enough people were eager to volunteer. The participants had their workstations outfitted with a treadmill and an adjustable height desk. They could choose to sit, stand, or walk at a slow pace while at their desk, and were told to use the treadmill if and when they pleased. There was no minimum walking requirement. A control group remained in their normal desks.

Employees wore accelerometers to track movement, and answered weekly surveys that asked for overall work performance, quantity of work, quality of work, and quality of interactions with other employees. What’s more, employee supervisors were asked to rate their employees on these same measures.

The accelerometers worn by participants documented an increase in daily activity.

The accelerometers worn by participants documented an increase in daily activity.

It took several months for employees to get accustomed to the treadmill desks, and work performance ratings actually decreased during this transition period. By the end of the year, though, employees’ self-reported productivity had improved by 0.69 points on a scale out of 10. What’s even more exciting is that supervisors at the firm rated these same employees as having improved by 1.11 points. These numbers may not seem mind blowing, but they are statistically significant. Meanwhile there was minimal overall change in the work performance ratings of the control groups not using treadmill desks.

We were fortunate enough to chat with Dr. Ben-Ner about the study. He explained to us why even moderate movement leads to increased productivity:

“There are multiple factors. Once you get up from a sitting position, you increase blood circulation, leading to better blood flow to the brain. [Increasing activity levels] improves memory and improves cognitive function. We’re talking about small gains in multiple domains that translate into improved productivity.”

We were curious about how other aspects of our “Sit Less, Move More” mantra could affect work performance, and asked if standing desks might have a similar result:

“Sure, absolutely. That’s what I do– I have three standing desks, two at home and one at work. A standing desk would be a very good solution for many people. When you stand, you’re not standing like a candle stick. You shift, you move, and this is a good thing.”

Asked about additional ways to incorporate movement into the workday when changing your desk is not a practical solution, he gave one of our favorite suggestions:

“If you have access to a staircase, go up as many floors as you can, take the elevator down, and then do it again.”

Given all of the benefits of moving more during the workday, it’s time to rethink the office! Studies like this prove that it will be worth the investment to managers and HR. Office alternatives to sitting, such as standing desks and treadmill workstations, are growing in popularity. This is more than a fad– it’s a conscious change in the work environment to produce better health and productivity outcomes. We recommend you get on board, too.

FitYourSpace can help you do this. We’ll modify your existing space or design a healthy office from scratch, and we’ll educate and train your team about best practices for staying healthy at the office. Check out our services here, or contact us to find out how you can make your office healthier and more productive.