In North America most of the cashiers at the banks or in the stores, hospital staff, pharmacy staff, airport staff – anyone and everyone who deals with customers you come across are standing and working. There is no chair or stool available to sit. It is perceived as a common courtesy to stand when the customer is also standing.
It is natural for human beings to stand in place and work. It is easier and faster to think from standing position. The tendency to procrastinate is reduced drastically while standing as there is hardly any note taking. When one stands up, one tends to believe that the task in front is much smaller. It is believed that Abraham Lincon, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Leonardo da Vinci enjoyed working standing up.
Today most offices in the Silicon Valley have gone in for stand-up desks. Stand-up desks are the latest trend in office furniture. Some believe it improves productivity while some claim that if you stand for three hours a day, it is the equivalent of running 10 marathons over the course of a year. Standing is believed to convey availability and courtesy while sitting in the presence of customers may be rude. Apparently, one gets the feeling that the staff are more efficient while standing, but there is no scientific proof for it. Many managers and supervisors feel that their staff are more efficient while standing and performing as they do not waste time to get up to greet the customers.
In North American schools/universities/colleges, the teachers always stand and deliver their lectures and in case one goes through the YouTube showing classes being conducted, there is no chair on the stage or near the blackboard.
In Europe and Asian countries the cashiers do sit and carry out their jobs. The major difference is that in North America, the cashier is expected to lift heavy stuff, ring the cash register and also bag the purchase. They have no help or assistance unlike their counterparts in Europe or Asia.
The associate who checks the passengers at the airline counter at the airport has to check-in the customer, tag the baggage and place them on the conveyor belt – all by themselves without assistance. At many airports now there are self check-in kiosks where the passengers do all these and drop in their baggage at the counter.
People who stand up and work appear to be healthier, smarter, happier and more efficient than those who sit and work. Compare a bus conductor to the bus driver; compare the cabin-crew of any airline to the flight crew; the list goes on. There are many real health challenges brought on by long days in a seated position, which is not what humans were designed to do. We squatted, to eat; we ran, to hunt for food; we stretched to reach for berries and nuts. Today most humans are tied on to their chairs, while at office or at homes, with hardly any movement.
In order to make life more comfortable in offices, there are ergonomically designed furniture, screens with adapters to position it at eye level, specially designed mouse to overcome repetitive strain injuries (RSI), etc. These result in sitting down for long periods of time at the work desk, mostly using only the brain and giving hardly any movement to the limbs. This leads to monotony, boredom, reduced social interaction among the staff, increase in body mass and blood pressure, high stress levels, etc.
To break away from such a dreaded lethargy, identify opportunities throughout your day to walk. Even a long stroll through the office gardens will help you shed a few calories and clear your mind. Try to take a phone call standing up; you can sit down if you need to take notes or write. Going from standing to sitting and then standing again will help keep you active and burn additional calories. Deliberately take a short break every hour to walk around the office and back to your desk. Clean and organise the office before leaving each day – never leave it to others to clean it for you. More than relaxing your muscles and brains at the end of the day, this will be result in a clutter free office the next morning.
Standing is a natural human posture and by itself poses no particular health hazard. However, working in a standing position on a regular basis can cause sore feet, swelling of the legs, varicose veins, general muscular fatigue, low back pain, stiffness in the neck and shoulders, and other health problems. The use of well-designed anti-fatigue matting can play a huge part in injury prevention, the reduction of standing worker fatigue, and increased productivity.
Taking care of the feet is the most important aspect for all those standing for prolonged periods at work (equally applies for those who sit for prolonged periods). Always remember that your feet can only be as comfortable as the footwear permits. Some tips for selecting the apt footwear are:-
- Wear shoes that do not change the shape of your foot.
- Ensure that the shoes have a firm grip for the heel. If the back of the shoe is too wide or too soft, the shoe will slip, causing instability and soreness.
- Find shoes that allow freedom to move your toes. Pain and fatigue result if shoes are too narrow or too shallow.
- Ensure that shoes have arch supports. Lack of arch support causes flattening of the foot.
- Wear shoes with lace-up fastenings. Tighten the lace firmly to prevent the foot from slipping inside the footwear.
- Use padding under the tongue if you suffer from tenderness over the bones at the top of the foot.
- Use a shock-absorbing cushioned insole when working on metal or cement floors.
- Never wear flat shoes and always ensure that the heels always less than 5 cm (2 inches).
- Always buy new shoes in the evening; that is when your feet are in the most swollen state.
Whether standing up and performing the tasks is better than sitting down and doing it or not, customers feel that a person who is standing is more approachable and effective. In Canada, the only person whom I have seen sitting and working is the bus/ taxi/ truck driver. If they had a way, they would have made her/him standup too.