Sitty McAss-Hurting
January 8, 2012 5:17 PM   Subscribe

Sitting at a desk all day for work: is it as agonizing as I think it would be?

I'm looking for a different line of work. While my current line of work is problematic for many reasons, one of the things I actually really like about it is the freedom to more or less get up and walk around at any time, for almost any reason. In fact, "roving," as it's called, is actually encouraged.

But I'm looking for jobs that are more writing and communications-focused, which means sitting at a desk. From the internships I've had in these fields, I know that sitting at a desk for even four hours at a stretch is physically exhausting. My legs and ass start to hurt, I get almost unbearably restless, etc. Doing any kind of sitting-intense activity outside of work, such as going to the movies, becomes quite unappealing. It sounds like I'm being a diva, but I swear I am not making this up.

So: those of you with desk jobs--is it really this bad? Is it considered ok at your workplace to get up every hour or so and walk around? Would it be viewed as overly odd if I were to land a desk job and construct a makeshift standing desk for myself by propping my computer up on a box, as I do at home? (Obviously, these are all contingent on the culture of each particular workplace, but I'm trying to get a general feel for how unacceptable these things might be in general.)

I've been told by those who have desk jobs that "you get used to it." In my case I seriously doubt that this is so. Any experiences you can share would be great.
posted by indognito to Work & Money (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I also have a hard time sitting still, but I need to in order to do work I want to do. You need to decide if this is true for you as well.

Is it considered ok at your workplace to get up every hour or so and walk around?

Yes, of course.

construct a makeshift standing desk for myself by propping my computer up on a box, as I do at home?

This would not be a problem in my field (web development/digital advertising) but would be in other more traditional fields I think.
posted by sweetkid at 5:22 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Each workplace has its own culture. At my office several people have both standing and sitting desk setups, and many are notorious wanderers. I'm usually up every hour or so and use the opportunity to go fax/copy/scan the thing that needs it, walk over to someone's office to ask them a question instead of emailing, or just go to make another cup of tea.
posted by rtha at 5:23 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

As long as you're not a receptionist it's not that unheard of to go walk around. When you're not an intern and don't have the kind of job where your job description includes being in the same place, nobody really cares as long as you get your work done. In fact most people are walking around all day to meetings and such anyway.

Depending on the kind of job you might even be able to get them to buy you a standing-desk set up. Especially if you can get some kind of note from your doctor saying it's an OSHA thing.
posted by bleep at 5:23 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, I work at a nonprofit and our Comms director is one of the Notorious Wanderers.
posted by rtha at 5:23 PM on January 8, 2012

Is it considered ok at your workplace to get up every hour or so and walk around?


Would it be viewed as overly odd if I were to land a desk job and construct a makeshift standing desk for myself by propping my computer up on a box, as I do at home?

Every single desk in my office is adjustable from quite low to standing height, with a separate adjustable keyboard tray. It would be totally ok for you to make your desk comfortable for you.
posted by brainmouse at 5:24 PM on January 8, 2012

It doesn't sound like your question is really a "is it that bad" question--it's a "can I personally stand this" question. You, obviously, find sitting still a LOT harder than the average person. That said, standing desks are increasingly common and lots of places would be willing to make that accommodation for, say, someone with back pain or what have you. I would simply be up front about this from the start. You're willing to do the work, but you will need to work at a standing desk.
posted by yoink at 5:24 PM on January 8, 2012

It depends on how much you're paid. If you're paid a lot, chances are you can probably walk around, and, so long as you get all your work done no one will really care if you're at your desk or not, so long as you're within reach

On the other hand if you have a job anyone can do they'll probably want to make sure you're actually working and monitor your time closely.
posted by delmoi at 5:33 PM on January 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

And another thing: yes, you might get used to it. But you should try not to! Getting up and wandering and/or using a standing desk are so much better for your health.
posted by thatone at 5:33 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I pace around the office pretty regularly. It's how I do my best thinking, and it has the added benefit of getting me off my ass.

It depends on the job. If you're going to be at a call center or something, where they measure your productivity by the minute and you have to be staring at the computer screen to work, then obviously no dice. If your job requires you to write and put thought into stuff, doubt anyone will look askance at your getting up and walking about.
posted by eugenen at 5:37 PM on January 8, 2012

You might consider increasing your exercise habits to reduce restless energy throughout the day. A serious weightlifting or running regimen practically demands you spend several hours a day on your arse in order to properly recover in time for the next session.

Also, if you're experiencing actual pain from sitting for a few hours there's a chance you might have some postural issues going on.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 5:50 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I will attest that there are people (at least me) for whom a straight-up desk job is just inherently problematic. Even though I'm very fidgety, it's not even the physical aspect for me-- it's the caged-in feeling of spending nine hours in a row in front of a computer. I'm now purposely pursuing a field where hopefully at least some proportion of my work day would get me up and about. I do think that your level of busyness throughout the day actually affects this a lot-- most genuinely busy jobs involve a lot more little movements: it's just by dint of moving folders, writing things down on pads, standing up to engage people, etc., but I think it really adds up. A slow, tedious desk job feels all the more...sitty. If the day drags by you'll find yourself up sit creek without a paddle.

Personally, if I ever get a job again that expects sitting all day at a desk/computer, I will go to great lengths to make a standing or treadmill desk possible for myself.

The literature has become fairly unambiguous about the health risks of sitting down all week (not to even speak of the mental and emotional effects), so it's not at all weird to have a good strong think about this.
posted by threeants at 5:51 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's just occurred to me how odd it is that most people would be reticent to take a job on top of a carcinogenic superfund site, but worrying about the effects of sitting all day, which could easily have similar effects on one's life expectancy, is likely seen as eccentric and difficult by many.
posted by threeants at 5:53 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

1) I've been working at desk jobs for the last 20 years and have always made a habit to get up and walk around to stretch my legs every hours or so.

2) Even so, if I'm not getting enough regular exercise after work hours I can get super twitchy - as in crawling out of my skin/restless leg syndrome levels of twitchy. As long as I get some sort of exercise I'm fine - whether it's a hard jujutsu workout at the dojo or just walking to the library in the evenings. But on those occasions where I've gone 2 - 3 weeks without any form of consistent exercise for some reason, then sitting at a desk all day starts to drive me crazy. If you're anything like me, you might want to make sure you're getting plenty of physical movement outside of work hours.
posted by tdismukes at 5:55 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

you're not crazy. Sitting all day is actually pretty terrible for you , for a number of reasons.

I have a sit-stand desk - it's one of the fancy ones that I can raise and lower. I also do a lot of microbreaking, and work in a job that allows me to take extra time at lunch to run or ride my bike (we have a fair number of amateur competitive athletes working for us; somewhat typical for the region.)

I think any reasonable employer will understand a request for a sit-stand desk, or a specific ergonomic setup, regardless of prior conditions. They're becoming more prevalent.

I messed up my lower back pretty badly a couple of years ago; a cumulative result of a long career of cycling and sedentary jobs. Once I understood the connection between chairs and low back pain, I requested the special desk (I got lucky and inherited one from a departing employee, but they'd have bought one if I'd asked). I also have a yoga ball in my office. I have a headset on my phone as well. I spend my entire day going from standing, to chair, to yoga ball, to pacing around my office on the phone or filing things, or running up and down the stairs to meetings and/or fetch things.
posted by lonefrontranger at 6:09 PM on January 8, 2012

I work in an office of fairly young and active people who sit all day, and one thing we did on the "get off the office chair" front is to buy a big round ball. It rotates around the pit, and most everybody sits on it for about an hour or two. It really forces you to sit up and engage your core and legs. I love it.

Aside from that, I am constantly getting up to move boxes around, put packages together, refill my water bottle, make coffee, wash the dishes in the sink, etc. Any employer should not have a problem with your getting up to pee or eat lunch or have a smoke. A standing desk should be fine, but there's no way in H-E-double hockeysticks I'd ever use one.

I would posit that it's not just the office sitting that's the problem, but that on top of the sitting in a car that makes up most people's commutes. I wonder how I did that for so many years when I lived out in suburbia.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:43 PM on January 8, 2012

What do you mean when you say "walk around?" You can get up from any desk and walk around a bit in the office or to the bathroom if you'd like pretty much whenever. But as for taking a long constitutional for 15 minutes sort of walk-- the kind I wish I could do more often at work-- most offices will allow you one 15-minute break per 4 hour period.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:02 PM on January 8, 2012

most offices will allow you one 15-minute break per 4 hour period.

As long as I get work done and I'm around for meetings, no one really keeps track of where I am -- OP, all this really varies by office culture and in some cases, the city.
posted by sweetkid at 8:08 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm currently doing a programming internship about an hour north from me so I have the desk job and the commute to sit with. This is the first desk job I've ever had (been doing it for about six months now). I previously worked in a restaurant standing for about five hours a night with a sitting break here and there. I prefer the desk job, although the drive is what kills me.

"Roving" is also encouraged at my place. Sometimes I just have to get up and walk around to think through something or get a drink of water. Sometimes I see others flipping through a newspaper in the break room or something.

It's not that bad in my opinion and I've started to get used to it. I sometimes get the tiredness/exhaustion feeling right after lunch but that's probably normal with others. It hasn't affected me when sitting outside of work though. Make sure you follow the best sitting postures because that might be what's causing you the exhaustion.
posted by jwmollman at 8:15 PM on January 8, 2012

I was a manager in a Fortune 500 company. Many people treat it primarily as a desk job, but my roaming around and talking with internal customers got me high marks for spending "face time" with them. Of course, it was expected that I created and achieved metrics around this activity. So, if you can make walking around the office part of your job, I would recommend it. I was fortunate to work on a large campus, so I put in 2 or 3 miles a day doing this.
posted by kamikazegopher at 8:29 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Is it considered ok at your workplace to get up every hour or so and walk around?"

Yes, at most of the corporate offices where I've spent time (usually as a contractor), this is considered normal and even encouraged.

From a page about corporate life at "Sometimes when I need an ergonomic break, I walk around the lake to stretch my legs ...

From a Wells Fargo health newsletter (PDF): " ... try to take a short walk at least every half- hour, even if it's just to the water cooler or printer."

Note that a lot of this type of info is going to be behind an intranet firewall, so it's not very searchable, but yes - in my experience, big companies have an awareness of ergonomics and want to avoid employee injury claims, so they encourage reasonable breaks and walking around and whatever sensible measures can be taken to keep folks from developing ergonomic issues.
posted by kristi at 8:44 PM on January 8, 2012

I agree with the above that getting up and walking around is pretty common in most cubicle-farm type workplaces. However, each workplace has its own tolerance for chatter and interruption. For example, in my office, impromptu meetings at someone's desk are discouraged because the noise bothers people. I think there is a difference between taking a walk every hour and taking a walk every hour in order to "make the rounds" to chat with people.
posted by cabingirl at 9:04 PM on January 8, 2012

I can only offer my own experience. I worked in offices for over 25 years, and in the vast majority it was okay to get up, walk around, go grab a coffee or whatever pretty much whenever you didn't actually need to be tied to the phone/computer or whatever. On the other hand it would be frowned upon if you took this too far and weren't at your desk most of the time.

Additionally, there are meetings, presentations and so on, which at least vary the soul-crippling tedium. Yes, I hated it. Hated it. From the general tone of your question I have a feeling you might too. Be careful.
posted by Decani at 11:02 PM on January 8, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for your answers. I'm relieved to learn that it seems generally acceptable, even desirable, that one gets up and walks around every so often and/or has a standing desk. A desk job does still seem oppressive, considering I'm in pretty much constant motion at my current job. But I'm glad that I'm obviously not the only one to consider it so.

(Also, for what it's worth, I exercise strenuously every day already. But this is a good suggestion as I know many restless insomniac sorts who do not.)
posted by indognito at 4:19 AM on January 9, 2012

I'm definitely the itchy sort. I get up every half hour and move around, go to the ladies' room, walk around the building, etc.

It also helps if the work itself is interesting and challenging. That's really the main factor.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:11 AM on January 9, 2012

« Older Oh, IKEA ...   |   Cheap Orlando vacation Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.