How Cubicles Make Us Unproductive

As a student, it’s easy to move around while working and studying. In fact, it’s hard to stay in one place for 8 hours, as classes, meetings, and socializing require movement. But as someone who recently became one of millions of Americans sitting at desks for 8 hours a day this summer, I can already feel the sedentary lifestyle eating away at my health. My shoulders are stiff from sitting, my legs are sore from not moving, and my eyes are strained from writing at a computer. I’m exhausted from simply sitting. Each day, I find myself wishing that I could take my work outside to get away from the suffocating air conditioning and dull glare of fluorescent lights. At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve just gotten off of a Transatlantic flight. When I get up to use the restroom, I do surreptitious lunges down the hallway just so I can move, even a little. In comparison to the school year, my productivity is certainly suffering.

None of what I’m experiencing is news. It’s common knowledge (both among the general public and the scientific community) that sitting all day at a desk is bad for you. Cubicles and shared office spaces are detrimental to productivity. A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. For companies that provide health insurance to their workers, these can be very costly diseases. Prevention in the workplace is much less expensive than treatment. So why are offices still covered with gray cubicles?

I wish I had the answer. In fact there are many solutions to the problem of sedentary workers, with exercise balls, standing desks, and even treadmill desks becoming common items. Unfortunately many workplaces simply don’t have a culture that encourages their use. There is a myriad of reasons why workplaces still enforce a traditional 9 to 5 workday in an office, and there is an equal variety of reasons why this should not be the case anymore.

What I do know is that for workplaces looking to attract the smartest and brightest millennials, cubicles simply aren’t an option anymore. Only a few years (or less) removed from college, millennials aren’t used to sitting all day. Having grown up in a culture of “you can do anything” and “do what you love”, we’re not going to settle for a confining office space. Instead, we’ll find other jobs that allow us to do what we want without causing trans-Atlantic flight syndrome.

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Alicia White

A rising senior majoring in chemistry at Northwestern University, Alicia also studies environmental public policy, particularly renewable energy policy.

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