Make us your home page

Treadmill desks make workers more productive, study finds

It may be just the kind of place anyone would want to work. In one area sits a foosball table, pingpong table and video golf game to help employees break through creative blocks. In another area, slices of birthday cake are on the kitchen's island counter. But the most noticeable workplace feature? Treadmill desks.

At Salo, a finance, accounting and human resources staffing firm based in Minneapolis, the culture is one of movement intended to fuel creativity and productivity. Workers pace on treadmills while talking on the phone or sorting through emails. Others stand at their desks or sit on exercise balls.

A recent study by the University of Minnesota found that walking while working might not only improve employees' health but their output.

The study, conducted by Avner Ben-Ner, a professor of work and organizations at the Carlson School of Management, followed about 40 employees of a financial services company who regularly used treadmills instead of chairs. Workers had a computer, a phone and writing space on a desk in front of a treadmill set to go no faster than 2 miles per hour. Ben-Ner and his co-authors studied them for a year.

Treadmills increased productivity by nearly 10 percent. "That's a substantial increase," Ben-Ner said.

Workers were not forced, like rowers in a Roman war galley, to walk all day. Walking on the treadmill was voluntary — as was standing at their desk or sitting on an exercise ball. Still, even though workers could sit all day if they wished, most did not.

Moving, Ben-Ner said, is good for work. Especially for what he called "brain workers," those who need to have increased cognitive skills to perform their duties. An employer's investment of $1,000 to $2,000 in outfitting a workstation will pay off, he said.

"The employer benefits from the employee being active and healthy and more smart because more blood is flowing to the brain," Ben-Ner said.

Officials at the company that participated in Ben-Ner's study did not return a call seeking comment. But Salo's participation in a similar study several years ago by the Mayo Clinic helped create a culture of movement and fitness at the company, said founders Amy Langer and John Folkestad.

They had seen an article by Dr. James Levine at Mayo and, as Langer said, "stalked him" in an effort to get treadmill desks like the ones he used. Instead, in 2008, they became part of his study. The treadmills and other equipment, like wireless headsets to encourage movement, have been a feature at Salo ever since.

While everyone in the office wears business attire, running shoes are at every desk. There is even a conference room with four treadmills for "walking meetings."

Whether the culture attracts employees who like to constantly move or whether the active environment created more energetic workers isn't really clear, Langer said. "This for us is not abnormal," she said, pointing to workers moving and pacing all over Salo's sun-filled main area. Salo has about 55 employees in its Minneapolis office; in all, the company has about 330 consultants working all over the Twin Cities. Salo has another office in Chicago.

Folkestad said that as Salo looks to expand into new space, they are considering putting a treadmill at every workstation.

At one end of the Minneapolis office, chief financial officer Denise Doll-Kiefer was trying to meet her goal of walking 2 to 4 miles every day while going over work at her desk. At the other end, at a bank of treadmills, Maura Howard and Angie Complin in business development perused emails and spoke with clients by phone as their walking shoes kept up a steady beat.

"I try to do 3 miles every day," said Howard, who also teaches fitness classes outside work. Both she and Complin said the regular walking helps them avoid the drowsiness that used to hit them after lunch.

Ben-Ner said Salo's experience is becoming less rare as more companies from Best Buy to Great Clips are setting up treadmills, standing desks and other equipment to encourage workers to get up and move.

"It's detectable on the radar now," he said of the desire to encourage more regular workplace activity, especially among deskbound workers.

"You sit long, you start dozing off because you don't do anything other than thinking."

It makes sense for companies, and sedentary workers, to pay attention, he said.

"There is a very simple cost-benefit analysis here. We're not talking big fitness gains. We are talking a person who is sedentary who just gets up."

Treadmill desks make workers more productive, study finds 04/03/14 [Last modified: Thursday, April 3, 2014 2:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  2. New owners take over downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus


    ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown German beer-hall Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg has been bought by a partnership led by former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants president Keith Sirois.

    The Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg, located in the former historic Tramor Cafeteria, St. Petersburg, is under new ownership.

  3. Boho Hunter will target fashions in Hyde Park


    Boho Hunter, a boutique based in Miami's Wynwood District, will expand into Tampa with its very first franchise.

    Palma Canaria bags will be among the featured items at Boho Hunter when it opens in October. Photo courtesy of Boho Hunter.
  4. Gallery now bringing useful art to Hyde Park customers


    HYDE PARK — In 1998, Mike and Sue Shapiro opened a gallery in St. Petersburg along Central Ave., with a majority of the space dedicated to Sue's clay studio.

     As Sue Shapiro continued to work on her pottery in St. Petersburg, her retail space grew and her studio shrunk. Now Shapiro's is bringing wares like these to Hyde Park Village. Photo courtesy of Shapiro's.
  5. Appointments at Raymond James Bank and Saint Leo University highlight this week's Tampa Bay business Movers & Shakers



    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. Jackson will oversee all of Raymond James Bank's operational business elements, risk management and strategic planning functions. Kackson joins Raymond James Bank after senior …

    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. [Company handout]