by Gregory Ferenstein (@ferenstein)
Desk jobs are slowly killing us. Perhaps even worse than dying early, our office-potato lives are making us more susceptible to joint pain, fatigue, and illness. To fight off these modern diseases, I use a treadmill desk, which keeps me in motion all day long. Unfortunately, treadmill desks are pretty pricey, going for around $1,400 on Amazon.
Now, a new study has quantified the impacts of treadmill desks on workplace productivity and the results convincingly show why it’s worth it to a company’s bottom dollar to buy walking stations for the entire office.
The researchers conducted a year-long controlled experiment with employees in a financial firm. On average they found that supervisor ratings of employee productivity increased 10% (on a 1-10 scale) and energy expenditure per day shot up 70 calories. This generally confirms other evidence on walking desks, including one that found that doctors are 10% more accurate at diagnosing patients while on a walking workstation (actually, their diagnosis rate went from 88% to near perfect, 99%, while walking).
“The results suggest that the introduction of treadmill workstations, as hypothesized, has a significantly favorable impact on both physical activity and work performance,” the team concludes. “It seems that companies ought to consider making treadmill workstations available to their sedentary employees.”
With any rudimentary back-of-the napkin calculations, outfitting the entire office with walking stations is a penny saver. As long as the new equipment satisfies this the simple Productivity Increase + Healthcare Savings > Cost of Treadmill Per Employee equation, it makes perfect sense.
A 10% bumb in satisfaction is huge. If the average employee is worth $50K/year, treadmill desks add an extra $5K worth of productivity. Indeed, if the actual productivity spike is anywhere near what other studies have found, it’s likely worth more than the $1,400 price tag. And, it’s not hard to see why treadmill desks are so beneficial: being tired at work causes a massive drain on resources. Being upright helps curb this — and even a slightly perkier workplace is worth a lot of money.
Then, you have to factor in healthcare. Many workplaces offer hundreds of dollars in savings for employee wellness programs, which can save the business itself in insurance costs, sick days, and worker comp. Sick days alone are worth a few hundred dollars per day per employee.
To be sure, office plans that only incentive gym memberships may be insufficient to optimize their employees health: sitting all day long can offset some of the beneficial effects of occasional exercise, which is probably why desk jobs are associated with cardiovascular disease.
I love my treadmill desk, and I walk around five hours a day (and that’s probably more than most will use it). One unit can easily be split by two or more employees. So, the actual cost of a treadmill desk is a maximum of $700 per employee.
In short, so long as the profitable increase in productivity and healthcare savings is more than $700, it’s worth employers to outfit the entire office with treadmill desks.