Compared to other jobs, office positions initially seem much less stressful on the body. Instead of operating heavy machinery, moving heavy products, or standing in production lines or behind cash registers for their entire shift, office workers are able to spend most of their day sitting at their desk. Therefore, one might think that office workers avoid the worst of job-related physical strain.
However, this isn’t necessarily true. If you work in an office, there’s a good chance you either suffer from back pain or know someone who does. It’s a common result of long shifts spent sitting in office chairs. And it doesn’t end there — there’s also headaches, sore shoulders, aching necks and more. Sitting at a desk for hours at a time can be uncomfortable, and if the desk, chair or your posture are ill-equipped for the task, then that discomfort only increases.
That’s where office ergonomics come into play. Good office ergonomics can help keep employees happier, healthier and more productive. On the other hand, bad office ergonomics can cause lasting pain, decrease mental and emotional health, and drag down worker productivity. But now you might be asking — what are office ergonomics?
What are Office Ergonomics?
Ergonomics refers to the design characteristics of an object or space that makes it easier to use. Specifically, this refers to their ease of physical use — you wouldn’t describe a high-tech computer as ergonomic because of its processing speed, but rather how the position of the monitor on the base made it easier to read.
Office ergonomics, therefore, are the characteristics of an office space that make it easier to use. Ideally, the office furniture should be created and organized to make it as comfortable as possible for employees to use, and the employees themselves should utilize proper posture and positioning to minimize strain.
Ensuring proper ergonomics isn’t just a matter of short-term comfort, although that should be important as well. Poor office economics can lead to physical strain and injury, increased stress, and lowered work efficiency. Ergonomics that contribute to these factors are referred to as ergonomic hazards. On the other hand, good ergonomics reduce physical and mental strain and contribute to both employee productivity and happiness.
Examples of Ergonomic Hazards in the Office
Ergonomic hazards are anything that increase stress, strain or discomfort in the workplace — without being tangible safety hazards, of course. There are three main types of ergonomic hazards: environment, tools and behavior.
The biggest ergonomic hazard in the office is suboptimal furniture. Even if an employee possesses perfect posture and takes breaks to walk and stretch, an ill-fitting chair and a poorly positioned desk can lead to them suffering back pain, joint pain and more. A work environment devoid of ergonomic hazards is easy and comfortable to use. Some examples of poor environment ergonomics include:
Old, worn or rigid office chairs
Desks without much room underneath or with poorly leveled tops
Office supplies spaced so that employees have to crane and reach for them constantly
Overly bright computer monitors or monitors placed in front of bright surfaces, such as windows receiving heavy sunlight
The tools your employees use can have just as much of an effect on ergonomics as the furniture. While office spaces don’t involve much heavy machinery, even simple objects like utility knives or staplers can create extra stress. Make sure your office supplies are functioning properly and aren’t outdated or poorly maintained.
A good work environment and good tools only work as well as the person who uses them. While this isn’t as important in an office workplace as it is in a physically demanding job, having your employees know how to properly carry out their tasks with optimal physical form is important for long-term comfort. Even something as simple as teaching them proper lifting form for boxes can help in the long run. Some instances of ergonomically hazardous behavior include:
Slouching in your seat
Letting your legs dangle above the ground
Leaning too close to your monitor
Lifting heavy objects with improper lifting form
Going long periods of time without standing and walking
Consequences of Bad Office Ergonomics
As mentioned, poor office ergonomics don’t just contribute to short-term discomfort. Over time, the consequences can pile up, contributing to body pain, mental strain and reduced work efficiency.
While it’s true that an office job isn’t as physically demanding as a hard labor position such as construction, poor office ergonomics can still have a noticeably detrimental effect on your physical health.
Back pain: Many office workers are prone to poor posture, but sitting poorly or in an unsupportive chair for hours at a time can lead to weakened back muscles and back pain. In severe cases, this can even have a detrimental affect on the spine.
Effect on organs: Aside from the affect it can have on the spine and back muscles, poor posture can also compress the lungs and stomach. Over extended periods of time, this can lead to difficulty breathing and stomach pain.
Neck and shoulder pain: Sitting hunched at a desk and having to reach for things repeatedly can lead to shoulder pain. What’s more, constantly craning or twisting the neck can lead to neck pain.
Headaches: Focusing on a bright screen or on small details for several hours at a time can lead to an increase in headaches and eyestrain. Prolonged eyestrain can even lead to blurred or double vision.
Wrist pain: Constant typing and poor typing posture can cause wrist pain. Specifically, it can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, which comes from a pinched nerve in the wrist and can cause both pain and numbness.
Joint pain: Sitting for prolonged periods of time can lead to joint pain, especially in the knees.
Poor circulation: Sitting for long periods can lead to poor circulation. In severe cases, this can lead to varicose veins — twisted and highly visible veins, usually in the legs, that may or may not be harmful.
These issues can be lessened or worsened depending on one’s posture, but all of them are exacerbated by poor office ergonomics.
Poor office ergonomics can also place a strain on employees mentally. Sitting hunched for long periods of time lowers energy levels due to how poor posture effects the cardiovascular and metabolic systems. When paired with the physical pain that often comes with long office hours, this can lead to poor moods and increased stress.
With both increased physical pain and mental stress, it’s no surprise that poor office ergonomics can contribute to reduced work efficiency. What’s more, lower energy and low productivity can contribute to burnout, which further damages both productivity and the employee’s emotional state. This creates a negative feedback loop of decreasing productivity, leading to a lowered mental state, which leads to a further decrease in productivity.
Tips to Improve Office Ergonomics
There are two factors that can be changed in order to improve office ergonomics: the furniture and tools themselves, and the positioning and behavior exhibited by employees while using them. Here are a few tips employees can use to help improve their working experience:
Don’t slouch: Slouching places unnecessary pressure on your internal organs and the discs of your spine. Be sure that you’re sitting upright in your chair and your lumbar is properly supported.
Walk when you can: Getting up and walking, even briefly, can help improve your circulation and take some of the strain off your back. Remember to stand up and walk a few times during the workday in order to keep your blood flowing.
Support your arms: Allowing your arms to hang constantly places strain on your neck and shoulder muscles. Keep your arms supported when you can, whether it be on the armrests of your chair or on the top of your desk.
Place your monitor directly in front of you: Having to crane your neck to properly view your monitor increases neck strain. By keeping your monitor directly in front of you and not positioned too high or low, you can reduce the strain to your neck. Make sure the keyboard is directly in front of you to avoid straining your shoulders with constant turning and adjustments.
Hold the phone: Hold your phone in your hand when you use it. Jamming it between your ear and shoulder may leave your hands free, but hunching to hold it there strains the neck and shoulders. If you prefer to have your hands free, consider looking into wireless phone earpieces.
Keep the mouse and keyboard close: Keep the keyboard and mouse close to each other to avoid constantly reaching for one or the other. This will help reduce the strain on your wrists and shoulders.
Keep your head straight: Keep your head straight and even while you work. Craning forward or backward will strain your neck muscles and can lead to headaches.
Keep the monitor at a distance: Leaning too close to the monitor can strain your eyes and contribute to headaches. Make sure it’s close enough for you to comfortably read from, but no closer.
Reduce glare: Staring at a bright screen for long periods of time can strain your eyes and cause headaches. Limit the glare from your monitor and make sure it isn’t placed in front of a brightly lit surface, such as a sunny window.
Give your eyes a break: Look away from your screen at something neutral in the distance every now and then. Even if it’s only for a few seconds, giving your eyes a break from your monitor can help decrease eyestrain.
Don’t dangle your feet: Make sure your feet are able to rest flat against the ground. If your chair is too high and they can’t reach, get a footrest or low stool to rest them on.
Some of these options will be easier or harder to implement, depending on your workspace. Even if you can only use a few, however, it can still help to improve your physical and mental state, as well as your work efficiency.
Ergonomic Office Furniture
Aside from employee behavior, the best way to improve office ergonomics is by adjusting the office itself. Ill-fitting office chairs and desks can force employees to hunch or twist, increasing discomfort and exacerbating physical injury. To improve employee physicality, productivity and mood, it’s important to have comfortable — and preferably adjustable — furniture. For an office building, the most important furniture in this regard are the chairs and desks.
Office chairs are an important part of any office worker’s day-to-day life. They spend most of the day working from them, so it’s important that the chairs be ergonomically sound. Poor office chairs lack adjustment options and don’t support the lower back. An ergonomic office chair should promote optimal posture, support the lumbar region and be adjustable to take into account differing employee builds. For example, here are a few of the features offered by Arnold’s Office Furniture ergonomic desk chairs:
Mobile: Our chairs come equipped with rolling wheels and 360-degree swiveling capabilities, allowing employees to switch between work environments quickly and smoothly.
Height settings: Our chairs allow you to adjust the height of the seat, meaning that you can move between table heights without having to sacrifice your comfort or swap out for a new chair.
Tilt function: Our chairs can tilt both forward and backward, allowing you to keep your feet firmly on the floor and your hips at an optimal angle to avoid strain.
Armrests: Our ergonomic chairs always come with armrests in order to take the strain off your shoulders. Several models have adjustable height and orientation.
Headrests: Our high-backed office chairs have both removable and built-in headrests. These support the head and neck when the chair is reclining.
Locking mechanisms: The locking mechanism on our chairs means that your settings are saved every time you adjust them. This way, you can return to the same chair preferences each day, instead of having to readjust the chair each time you come back to it.
While an office chair is important, a desk is equally so, especially when it’s the first thing someone sees once they step into an office. An ergonomic desk should both look good and encourage good work posture. Arnold’s Office Furniture offers traditional desks in a variety of styles, as well as standing desks. Standing desks help to alleviate neck and joint pain, keep blood flowing, and encourage employees to be more active in the workplace.
For Ergonomics, Consider Arnold’s Office Furniture
If you’re not sure where to go to get new, ergonomically optimized office furniture, consider Arnold’s Office Furniture. Not only do we provide quality desks, chairs and tables for your office, but we are the leading provider of the revolutionary Sunline Sliding Cubicle System. Sunline cubicles allow for complete customization — the wall height, accent color and even patterns are yours to choose, and they can be assembled within hours.
Whether you’re in the market for new cubicles or traditional office furniture, Arnold’s Office Furniture has you covered. Contact us today or request a quote and take the first step in creating an ergonomic office!
Rob has more than 25 years of experience in the office furniture business. He has used his extensive knowledge in his role as Senior Vice President to ensure our office furniture meets the needs of the modern corporate office environment and he regularly lends his expertise to various articles posted on the Arnold’s Office Furniture blog. Learn more about Rob!