Standing up on the job

2014

Last month it was reported that staff at London's National Gallery were up in arms about management proposals to stop some of them sitting down on duty by removing the chairs that are currently available for them to use during their four-hour shifts.

The story got me thinking – because I'm not sure that this is such a bad idea. After all, standing up is far more healthy than sitting down and in a workplace where customers are always on their feet, it must surely be best to interact with them at eye level. Limbless people who have no option but to sit are very aware of the disadvantage eye level difference makes to their ability to connect with other people. And rarely would they choose to sit in one spot for long periods.

There's a psychological benefit, too. To see familiar spaces from different angles from time to time and exchange occasional remarks with members of the public is guaranteed to make working hours pass more quickly and help make them less tiring.

The reason for my being so certain about those last points is that the more we move and the more we speak, the deeper and more frequently we have to inhale and exhale. This, in turn, ups our oxygen intake, increases the flow of blood to the brain, keeps us more alert, makes us feel more energetic and enables us to deliver better results - no matter what form of work we do.

Shop assistants survive being on their feet at work. So do gardeners, teachers, nurses, doctors, cleaners, waiters, builders, (need I go on?). Window cleaners and painters even do it on the rungs of ladders.

The realization that sitting down all day is generally a bad idea has led to the growing popularity of lectern-like ' standing desks' that let otherwise sedentary office staff move around as they work at their computers. A pretty good precedent for the value of this comes from Goethe, who was one of the most productive thinkers known to history. Though he had wealth enough to buy sofas, chairs, tables and desks galore, he nevertheless, chose to stand both to read and write even when in his 80's.

Of course, one common job that has to be done seated is driving. However in Europe, the hours that drivers are allowed to sit continuously behind a wheel are strictly controlled while other activities their job entails require a lot of air intake.

Crane drivers, for example, do a lot of deep breathing as they climb up and down to and from their eerie to begin and end each shift. Truck and delivery van drivers get chance to expand their lungs as they off load and on load cargo. And while cab drivers don't get so much external exercise, it's the stopping and starting and interacting with different passengers that keeps them on their toes. Certainly here in London, the varied and animated conversations black cab drivers get through on each shift must increase their oxygen intake ten fold!

The premise with which this article began is that to stand and move rather than to sit while working makes a job more interesting and is better for our health. It now occurs to me that to stand and shift weight while driving would result in a lot less accidents. Ergonomically acceptable vehicles that would make such a thing possible have yet to be created. But, if they ever are, I am willing to bet they will not have been designed by people who made a habit of sitting down on the job.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.