For many professionals, the average day in the office involves much sitting and working at a desk. Functional movements may be limited to actions that include standing, hunching, or reaching, although these may be impinged upon by a poor layout of the office, or furniture that is not conducive to natural movements. As a result, people often suffer from a number of chronic pains, including:
- Back pain
- Poor flexibility
- Shoulder tension
- Poor digestion
- Eye strain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Headaches and migraines
Although a number of physical factors can impact the development of these conditions, postural alignment can play a large part in reducing the damages.
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Ergonomics as a Necessity
Ergonomics refers to the study of individuals in a work environment, and the practical use includes evaluating function and movement to arrive at a process that is natural and less hazardous to the physical form. While this can include obvious safety measures and equipment, it is also highly applicable in the office, where repetitive actions can impact the musculo-skeletal system over time. Ergonomic office furniture is designed to lessen the impact that office work can have on the body, to promote healthy and natural body positions, and to reduce loss of time and energy through inefficient practices.
Many designs for either office floor plans or furniture can actually be counterproductive to wellbeing and productivity. This is because the design creates limitation in movement and efficiency, and essentially teaches the body to move in an unnatural way. Over time, these movements become a muscle memory, so that the body re-aligns itself to perform the action more comfortably. However, when this happens, it also means that the physical limitations have become incorporated in all functional movements, and this can be an influencing factor in possible health issues.
Ergonomic office furniture is designed to support natural function and facilitate comfort, wellbeing, and effective use of energy in the work environment. The use of ergonomic furniture in the workplace can also result in:
- Better productivity
- Employee wellbeing
- Less loss of work days due to injury or illness
- Stress reduction
While the above points cover the general benefits for the entire office environment, individuals who utilize ergonomic office furniture can also experience specific positive outcomes:
- Reduction of stiffness or pain
- Better energy levels
- Greater cognitive focus with less physical distractions
- Improved circulation
- Lessened digestive distress
- Reduced strain
- Better flexibility and motility
Is Your Furniture Making You Ill?
One of the concerns that ergonomics addresses is how subtle movements or posture positions that are constantly utilized can still result in exponential health impacts. Back and neck pain are a common complaint among office workers, and are most frequently traced back to chair and desk designs and configurations. Most times, workers will adjust their bodies accordingly in order to remain productive with the tools that are present, but this can end up generating misalignment in the spine.
The most prevalent adjustments that lead to postural concerns include hunching over a desk that is too low or too far away, and slumping in a chair that does not give the best support to be working at a computer. These positions for working will often result in shoulder and neck pain, and can even be the cause of chronic headaches.
Another large concern is that the basic seated position can lead to shortening of the hamstrings and tightness in the hip flexors. This is linked to chronic lower back and sciatic pain, since the act of keeping the legs perpendicular to the torso, even when resting in a chair, puts considerable strain on the muscles and tendons of the hips and legs. Thus, even a seemingly relaxed position can impact overall wellbeing.
These health issues can lead to long-term concerns if they are not addresses, but will also impact work performance on a daily basis. Chronic pain and discomfort can lead to an inability to focus and difficulty in even simple mobility. Over the course of time the result can be less than efficient practices that are further exacerbated by the surroundings.
Is Your Furniture Slowing You Down?
Office furniture can also contribute to low productivity in more direct ways. Even for individuals who are not experiencing the physical health impacts of poor posture and pain, office furniture can also hamper efficiency in a very functional manner.
- Chairs that are overly large and difficult to get up from
- Desks which interfere with lanes of movement
- Cabinets and shelves which require straining to reach or open
- Cubicle layouts that are isolating
- Technology that requires constant monitoring or troubleshooting
All of these aspects can contribute to lost work time, since they require employees to expend more energy and take more circuitous routes in completing simple actions.
Intelligent Office Designs
One of the progressive benefits of ergonomics is that the study also considers functionality, safety, and comfort across a number of work settings. This means that different office spaces can have different ergonomic solutions, depending upon the goals of functionality and the specific layout of the space. Modern ergonomic office furniture is not just about benefiting employees as individuals, but also about improving the general environment.
This can make the incorporation of ergonomic office furniture into a workspace both simple and specialized. Basic changes such as desks and chairs that support natural posture positions can make an immediate impact on staff productivity and wellbeing. More sweeping changes can include a full reconfiguration of the workspace layout, so that ergonomic furniture is also combined with ergonomic design.
Workplaces that do utilize ergonomic office furniture experience better employee morale, less loss of work time, and greater efficiency. This not only improves the function of the company, but also attends personal concerns for workers. Reduced stress, a better ability to relax in down time, and the ability to enjoy and appreciate professional pursuits are also a result that can translate to better business returns.