Issue addressed Only half of Australia's adult population is sufficiently physical active. One method thought to increase incidental physical activity at work is the use of stair‐promoting interventions. Stairs are readily available and stair climbing is considered vigorous physical activity. Motivational signs have been extensively and effectively trialled to increase stair use, but are they suitable for contemporary populations? Methods Participants were occupants of three selected University of Sydney buildings using the elevators or stairs. Infrared people counters were installed to monitor stair and elevator use for 24 h/day during two baseline weeks, followed by two intervention weeks, where motivational and directional signs were placed at points of choice. Results At baseline there was a large between‐building variation in the change in stair to elevator proportion, where we observed a small increase in two buildings (81-84%, odds ratio (OR): 1.16 (1.09, 1.23), and 26-27%, OR: 1.09 (1.03, 1.15)), and a decrease (30-25%, OR: 0.75 (0.72, 0.77) in the third building. Conclusions Differences in stair use among buildings could be due to building design and function. Motivational and directional signs to promote stair use showed small or nil effects. The future of interventions promoting stair use in occupational settings may need more interactive or personalised intervention methods. So what? The implications of this study are that posters to promote stair use might be a thing of the past and this should be considered in future workplace health promotion efforts to increase physical activity. More novel and interactive methods using new media are recommended.