How to Ask Your Boss for a Standing Desk (and Have Them Say Yes)
A 7 step guide for acquiring the ultimate raise to improve your health, happiness, and productivity
The Benefits of a Standing Desk
Perhaps you've read some of the studies demonstrating the negative effects of sitting all day. Does “sitting is the new smoking” sound familiar?
Maybe your lower back, neck, and posture is suffering, but you’re so used to the chronic stiffness and pain, it’s hard to remember that it doesn’t have to be this way.
A 2016 gallup survey found that one in four adults sought treatment for back pain in the last twelve months, and 65% of participants reported seeking treatment in their lifetime.
Or perhaps you’ve read that standing at work can actually increase your productivity and alertness, and get you through the post-lunch slump.
Whatever the reason, you’re ready to approach your boss and start the conversation about requesting a standing desk.
So… where to begin?
In this guide, we'll walk you through:
Understanding the Landscape - learn how your office makes these decisions and how to leverage the process
Do Your Homework - arm yourself with research to back up your case
Making the Request - the best tips for having a "may-I-have-this" conversation with your employer
What to Expect - common responses your employer might have, and how to respond
Getting a Doctor's Note - how to obtain and present a doctor's note to seal the deal
Know Your Rights - know what the Federal laws are that protect you as an employee
Alternative Solutions - if all else fails, there's always another way and another solution
Understanding the Landscape
But Who Do I Ask?
It may sound obvious, but for a lot of employees, the first hurdle in asking for a standing desk is not knowing WHO to ask. Depending on the size of your company and the breakdown of departments, the person you should initially bring this up with can vary greatly.
If you’re in a small startup, it might be protocol to go directly to the CEO or one of the partners. In larger companies, you might start with your supervisor, office manager, or facilities manager.
If you’re not sure, it’s best to go to your direct manager first - they should be able to point you in the right direction, if nothing else.
But know this: in a lot of companies, whoever you ask first is not necessarily the final decision maker. Be prepared to present your case in a way that can be easily passed up the chain of command.
Know Your Company’s Values
Your company’s core values should shape the way the company is run, both publicly and inside the office. Knowing what matters to your business can help shape the way you frame your request.
For example, if your company values health and provides healthy snack options in the office through services like SnackNation, your boss will likely be intrigued by the health benefits associated with standing desks.
Comparatively, if your company puts an emphasis on learning and doing more with less, the powers that be may see the most value in the productivity increase linked to standing desks.
There’s Beauty in the Design
The evolution of office design has come a long way in the past century. With the minimalist vs gauche battle taking place in startups all over America, it’s easy to become accustomed to the pure white, handle-less file cabinets or the bean bag chairs strategically placed in common areas.
Even if your office layout is traditional cubicles, this truth remains the same: someone designed your office and chose the furniture, and they did it that way for a reason.
Taking a long look around your office layout and the pre-existing furniture can give you a good sense of how much aesthetics matter. If you’re company is filled with DIY hand-me-downs, they might not mind bringing in a desk that doesn’t match the color-scheme; but if a very specific look already exists, you should be prepared to present standing desk options that could fit into that aesthetic.
Do Your Homework
If you’re reading this, you’ve already heard enough about the benefits of standing desks to know it’s something you want in your life. But your boss might not be privy to all of the same facts and stats that have you excited to take some time out of your chair.
Don’t expect your boss to do the research themselves. Instead, do your homework and present a case for why providing you with a standing desk would be beneficial to your company.
Starting Stats and Facts
Your boss might not care that standing throughout the day gives you plenty of energy for social activities after work, but she’ll likely be interested to know that it helps to eliminate the very real post-lunch slump that kills afternoon productivity.
Every boss is different, so what matters to some might not matter to others. As we talked about above, it can help to gauge your company’s culture and values to determine the best approach.
Here are some of the top facts that we’ve found speak to employers:
- American companies incur absenteeism costs associated with 5 major health conditions of more than $10 billion per year. Standing desks have been linked to prevention of 4 out of 5 of these conditions.
- Standing desks have been proven to increase productivity by upwards of 10%.
- Companies with standing desks report less sick days taken and greater employee retention.
- The use of standing desks increases collaboration and face-to-face interaction in the office.
- Standing desks increase physical activity, and healthier workforces can benefit from reduced health care expenses.
- With reductions in neck and back pain, employers may reduce the risk of liability for potential worker’s comp claims
- For all of the reasons above, standing desks are a long-term investment that actually save companies money over time.
The 5 major health conditions that cause the most absenteeism, which standing desks have been proven to prevent, are hypertension, diabetes, physical inactivity, and obesity. Individuals have also reported that standing at work has helped them quit smoking.
Sometimes it’s helpful to share first hand accounts from other companies that have provided standing desks to some (or all) employees, and what their experience has been.
Though Google might be the most famous adopter of standing desks, your company doesn’t have to be their size (or have their budget) to offer this benefit. Here’s what a few Bay Area startups had to say about how their StandDesks have changed their workplace.
Know What’s Out There
If you prepare only one thing for your conversation with your employer, it should be this. Look into the various standing desk options available, and write down a few different options along with their costs.
For many, automatic standing desks are the best option because they’re non-invasive and they allow you to transition from sitting to standing at the press of a button (as opposed to the hand-crank versions, which can be physically strenuous).
But automatic standing desks can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, and while price might be the first thing your employer thinks about, it’s important to consider other factors to determine the long term value. Be sure to check things like:
- Technical specs: does it go high/low enough to accommodate your height?
- Warranty: what happens if the motor breaks, or the desktop cracks?
- Return policy: what if you decide you want to send it back?
- Delivery options: what are the shipping costs, and will it be delivered to your office door?
- Assembly: can your office manager easily assemble the desk? Will you be in charge of that?
- User reviews: most importantly, what are other people saying about it?
If a brand new desk doesn’t seem like it would work due to the design or size limitations in your office, you might want to consider desktop risers, which are designed to be placed on top of your traditional desk and can be easily converted to a standing height.
“One tactic I like to use when asking for something new in my office is to present my boss with 3 options: one that’s super high end and expensive, one that’s cheap but has awful reviews, and one that’s in the middle. The one I really want is that middle option.” Emily M. - Standing desk advocate
But let’s take a step back for one second.
We’re not suggesting that you march up to your employer and read them a list of statistics or desks they have to choose from. And we don’t recommend Slacking them youtube videos every 10 minutes until they say okay.
Instead, do your research, determine which talking points resonate the most for your company and situation, and have a conversation about it. (You deserve this desk.)
You can also create a one-pager on the benefits you’ve found and why a standing desk would make you a better employee, to present the information to your employer that way. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
Presenting your case in an organized fashion will also show that you’re serious about your request, and you’re not just asking on a whim.
Making the Request
Breathe in, breathe out - you got this!
Asking your boss for anything can be anxiety-inducing, but it doesn’t have to be. Knowing your worth as an employee is a good first step, and specific conversational tactics can help. Here are some of the tips from business thought leaders and case studies.
Conversational Do’s and Don’ts
- Do remember, when making any request from your boss, that you’ve contributed to the company in meaningful and measurable ways. Be prepared to highlight these contributions - numerically if possible - perhaps even a specific project you recently completed, or a goal you met. Your request should be grounded in the confidence that you, as an excellent employee, are worth the investment.
- Do consider the timing and context of your request. If you have an easy rapport with your boss, and feel you can bring up any issue at any time, do so. However, it may be best to bring up your request during a performance review when you’re already engaging in a discussion of your productivity and workplace satisfaction.
- Doframe your request as backed by science and research you can cite. This isn’t a whim or a trend you’re curious about — there are demonstrable benefits from using a standing desk.
- Do lead with the big idea and then delve into specifics. For example, you could start with “I’m interested in modifying my workspace with a standing desk…” then explain why.
- Don’t suggest that your request should be honored simply because someone, (let’s say “Ted”) at your workplace already has a standing desk. Be an individual, not a follower! Your request should stand on its own (no pun intended) and demonstrate how a standing desk would be helpful to you in particular. Ted has his own Ted-reasons for his Ted-desk.
- Don’t sound demanding — present your request as an option you’d like to explore with your boss’s help.
Real Life Feedback from People Who’ve Done the Leg-Work
We went into the trenches and got a few tips from people who’ve had success making requests to modify their workspaces.
Here are some of their top tips:
- Keep in mind when the last time you put in a request to improve your workspace was (this can include getting a new computer, a second monitor, etc.). Appropriate time between requests may be important. If you’ve never put in any requests, then this is an excellent place to start!
- Getting a doctor’s note (more on that below) can increase your confidence in making the request, as well as increase the likelihood of the request being granted.
- Know in advance what alterations may need to be done to your existing workspace, so you can be prepared to discuss them. For example, will you need to remove or alter a cubicle wall?
- Show that your request is well-thought-out. You’re prepared to take the lead on helping the process get done, whether it’s staying after hours to supervise the installation process and minimize disruption, or finding the most cost-effective model for your needs.
What to Expect
So now you’ve opened a dialogue, hooray!
In some cases, the information you’ve provided might be enough for your boss to jump on board with little hesitation. But in most cases, they’ll probably have a few concerns and rebuttals.
When making any request, it’s always good to anticipate what your boss might say and be prepared to navigate the ensuing conversation. Here are some potential examples (feel free to role-play with a friend as practice!):
- Boss: “If I get a standing desk for you, everyone will want one. We can’t afford it. It’s too expensive.”
- You: “We could start with having one or two around the office to get a sense of whether people are interested.” Or “What if we got a desk for a common area? It would give people a chance to decide if they liked using a standing desk. You'd be able to gauge the effects on productivity/morale and decide if it’s worth the investment.”
- Boss: “What’s wrong with your current desk?”
- You: “I’m intrigued by the research demonstrating the benefits of using a standing desk: including better health and productivity. There’s evidence that these kinds of improvements pay for themselves over time, because healthier employees are more productive and take fewer sick days. I can provide you with my list of research if you’d like to learn about more of the benefits.”
- Boss: “Is there a medical reason for this request?”
- You (if you’ve spoken with your doctor - more on this below): “Yes, I’ve consulted my doctor and I have a note from him/her recommending that I use a standing desk at work.” Or, if you haven’t spoken to a doctor: “I’m sure it would help with my chronic back pain. I’m happy to consult with my doctor and get a note from her if you’d like.”
- If you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, simply ask “Is there anything I can do on my end to change your mind?” Or, “Are there any circumstances that need to change to make this a reality?” Or finally, “May I check in again in a few months to see if it’s more feasible then?”
Getting a Doctor’s Note: The Surest Way
Some employers require a doctor's note to make any significant changes to an employee’s workspace. Fortunately, doctors and medical professionals frequently recommend workspace improvements for their patients.
Who to Ask?
Due to the long-term health benefits associated with standing desks, you generally don’t need a chronic problem like back pain for your doctor to be willing to write a note for you.
How Much Will it Cost Me?
If you intend to speak to your general practitioner, most employer health insurance plans cover a free annual check-up. If you haven’t already scheduled yours, this check-up is a great time to discuss your workplace needs.
If you have a good rapport with your doctor, even sending an email asking if he/she would provide you with a recommendation may be sufficient.
What Should I Say?
Like we just mentioned, many doctor’s are familiar with the health benefits associated with standing throughout the day. Still, you should tell your doctor why you think a standing desk might help you in particular.
Are you suffering from back pain? Lethargy? Weight management issues? Depression? Extreme stress? The increased physical activity you’d experience with a standing desk may improve a variety of conditions.
The only reason a doctor might not want to prescribe a standing desk? Bad for their business! A StandDesk a day keeps the doctor away! ;)
Know Your Rights
We get it - most of us don’t want to stir up drama with our employers, much less take them to court.
The various federal and state laws in place are designed to protect employees’ well being in the workplace, and it’s important that you familiarize yourself with the existing laws so you know what your basic rights are.
We are not attorneys, and we recommend consulting legal counsel if you think your company is in breach of a law and want to take action. This is not intended to provide legal advice.
The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) states that employers have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations for anyone with a physical or mental disability.
Under the ADA, a doctor can recommend what is necessary for an employee given any physical or mental conditions. This can range from someone needing to take breaks more often, to being unable to lift heavy objects, to needing a standing desk - and everything in between. They can’t dictate the brand of desk, so know that you might have to go with whatever your employer is willing to provide.
If your company declines your request with a doctor’s note, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) is the platform to which you would take legal action. Your employer would have the burden of proving why the employee/doctor request for a standing desk is not “within reasonable accommodations,” or why it would be harmful to the business.
Again, we are not attorneys, and we recommend consulting legal counsel if you think your company is in breach of the law and want to take action. This is not intended to provide legal advice.
Of course, the idea of going to court is rarely a fun one. You, as well as your employer, would incur legal and court fees, and though there are protections in place to give you job security during a legal battle, not all employers honor that (which only leads to more court time and attorney fees, and so on). Plus, it’s difficult to get work done when tensions are high.
Okay, so for whatever reason, your boss slapped a big fat NO on your dream of a standing desk. You either don’t want to go through the motions of getting a doctor’s note, or don’t want to deal with taking your employer to court. So it’s over, right?
You always have the option of proposing that you purchase a standing desk for yourself to use at work. Your boss is much more likely to approve something that they don’t have to coordinate or pay for, and may even offer to take care of clearing out your existing desk when it’s time to swap. Plus, you can write this personal purchase off on your taxes!
We know - this might not be financially feasible for everyone, or if your office design is very specific, your company still might say no. So what then?
In these special cases we recommend two options:
First, give it a little time. Your boss might not be open to the idea right now, but if the company is doing better in a few months, or if other employees begin to show interest in standing desks as well, they might be willing to reconsider. Check in with your boss about once a month so they know you’re still interested and dedicated, but you’re also not being annoying about it.
Second, get down with the DIY! There are tons of people whose initial intimacies with standing desks have been the result of stacking some cardboard boxes on top of their existing desk.
While not the best long-term solution, it will give you the opportunity to get used to standing while you work to ensure you enjoy it. Plus, it will show your employer that you would use the standing desk you requested in the first place!
We believe in you, your health and your ability to get the solutions needed to make your workstation a place of wellness! And you’ve got this. :)
Best of luck, and happy standing!