Nav: Home

Social awkwardness scuppers standing meetings

June 26, 2018

Standing during meetings could help keep office workers healthy, but new research from King's College London and Brunel University London suggests it's hard to resist keeping our seats when standing up breaks social rules.

Office workers make up half the UK working population and spend approximately two-thirds of their working days seated. Research suggests that people who sit for long periods have an increased risk of disease, while some studies have linked regular standing to a lower risk of premature death. Standing up in meetings could be one way to reduce workplace sitting.

'Sedentary office work is an urgent public health issue,' says lead researcher Dr Benjamin Gardner from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London. 'For some employers, such as software developers, standing meetings are commonplace. We need to get to the point where standing is the new normal for workers who would rather not be sat down.'

The researchers explored the experience of office workers who stood in meetings while their colleagues were seated in order to identify barriers to getting people on their feet. Twenty-five participants were asked to stand in three separate meetings and interviewed afterwards. They were instructed to stand for however long they deemed appropriate.

'We found that standing in meetings is a social minefield. Our participants often felt awkward about standing - they felt more visible to others, and worried that other attendees would think they were 'attention seekers',' says Dr Gardner.

Participants reported feeling 'disconcerted', 'awkward' or 'stupid', and felt like they were breaking unwritten rules. Many felt it particularly inappropriate not to sit in formal meetings or those addressing sensitive topics. In the face of this social pressure many participants stood at the side or back of the room, which some felt limited their engagement in the meeting, or simply chose to sit.

Not all the experiences were bad, however. Many participants said that standing made them more engaged in the meeting and motivated them to minimise meeting length. Indeed, previous research suggests that standing meetings tend to be shorter in duration than seated meetings.

When participants were chairing the meeting they felt that standing gave them more confidence, power, and authority over the meeting. However, this effect could backfire and cause psychological discomfort when participants feared their standing would be interpreted as an inappropriate assertion of power, particularly with senior colleagues.

'Ours is the first study to find out how people actually experience standing up in meetings,' says Professor Louise Mansfield from the Institute of Environment, Health and Societies at Brunel University London. 'Initial experiences of new behaviours can determine whether people will keep going. While standing is not a one-size-fits-all solution, it's about creating activity permissive cultures at work where people have the opportunity to move around more.'

The researchers suggest a number of ways employers could encourage people to stand in meetings by minimising the unease people feel from 'breaking the rules'. For instance, hosts might suggest that attendees must stand when speaking in contribution to a group discussion, and organisations can provide appropriate meeting spaces with high tables and stools.
The research is published in PLOS ONE and funded by the Medical Research Council.


About King's College London and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (2017/18 QS World University Rankings) and among the oldest in England. King's has more than 26,500 students (of whom nearly 10,400 are graduate students) from some 150 countries worldwide, and nearly 6,900 staff. The university is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.

The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London is the premier centre for mental health and related neurosciences research in Europe. It produces more highly cited publications in psychiatry and mental health than any other university in the world (Scopus, 2016), with 12 of the most highly cited scientists in this field. World-leading research from the IoPPN has made, and continues to make, an impact on how we understand, prevent and treat mental illness and other conditions that affect the brain.

About Brunel University London

Brunel University London is an international university committed to bringing benefit to society through excellence in education, research and knowledge transfer. Founded in 1966, Brunel has a reputation for high-impact academic research and entrepreneurial flair. The university works extensively with industry partners, contributing to global innovation and policy change. Situated in Uxbridge, Brunel has a broad portfolio of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes that attract 12,000 full-time students and 2,600 staff from more than 100 countries across the world.

About the Medical Research Council

The Medical Research Council is at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers' money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Thirty-two MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms.

King's College London

Related Health Articles:

Modifiable health risks linked to more than $730 billion in US health care costs
Modifiable health risks, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking, were linked to over $730 billion in health care spending in the US in 2016, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health.
New measure of social determinants of health may improve cardiovascular health assessment
The authors of this study developed a single risk score derived from multiple social determinants of health that predicts county-level cardiovascular disease mortality.
BU study: High deductible health plans are widening racial health gaps
The growing Black Lives Matter movement has brought more attention to the myriad structures that reinforce racial inequities, in everything from policing to hiring to maternal mortality.
Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
E-health resource improves men's health behaviours with or without fitness facilities
Men who regularly used a free web resource made significantly more health changes than men who did not, finds a new study from the University of British Columbia and Intensions Consulting.
Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.
Mental health of health care workers in china in hospitals with patients with COVID-19
This survey study of almost 1,300 health care workers in China at 34 hospitals equipped with fever clinics or wards for patients with COVID-19 reports on their mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and distress.
Health records pin broad set of health risks on genetic premutation
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marshfield Clinic have found that there may be a much broader health risk to carriers of the FMR1 premutation, with potentially dozens of clinical conditions that can be ascribed directly to carrying it.
Attitudes about health affect how older adults engage with negative health news
To get older adults to pay attention to important health information, preface it with the good news about their health.
Geographic and health system correlates of interprofessional oral health practice
In the current issue of Family Medicine and Community Health (Volume 6, Number 2, 2018, pp.
More Health News and Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.