The human body isn’t made for slouching in a rigid chair or hunching over a computer. Yet this is the exact position a lot of us find ourselves in on a daily basis.
Sitting down for long periods of time is taking years off our lives, according to research. It’s been widely linked with obesity, heart disease and bowel cancer. One Harvard study suggests that those who slouch are likely to see their testosterone level drop by 10 per cent and cortisol level rise by 15 per cent. This translates to low confidence and increased stress.
Employers are beginning to realise the strain poor posture is having on their workforce’s wellbeing and are investing in ergonomic furniture, which in essence is everyday objects refined to work more efficiently with humans. This could be a chair that better supports the spine or a keyboard and mouse sculpted for improved dexterity so fingers aren’t always bent.
“As designers, developers and other digital types, we’re married to our Macs. And while we’re up and about for planning sessions and meetings, the meat of our work is done sitting down at our desks,” says Will Craig, founder of the Glasgow design firm Digital Impact, who recently upgraded his office to feature ergonomic furniture.
“While we were waiting on the current office suite to be finished, we were set up in some temporary digs with standard Ikea-style furniture. It looked the part but it clearly wasn’t built for use eight hours a day and five days a week,” he adds. “After a couple of weeks, you start to notice the niggles and annoyances, and that has an impact on your work.”
Digital Impact’s employees were curious to find out whether the new chairs would be an improvement on the old ones and whether a different shaped desk could supercharge their work. Craig says that since the upgrade, “the dip in productivity has reversed, and the energy and dedication everyone works with is palpable”.
For companies looking for advice on ergonomic furniture, consultancies like Posture People can help assess workstations to reduce the risk of stress and identify solutions. Director Jo Blood not only believes that investing in it can spruce up a dull office but that it also makes sense.
“We use the analogy of a computer. You wouldn’t provide staff members with equipment from the 70s, because it would slow them down and make them inefficient. Yet it seems acceptable to have people on chairs that sink, don’t adjust, and have armrests that get in the way of the desk,” she says.
One of Posture People’s clients is breatheHR. They deemed their seating situation as claustrophobic and ended up bringing in a range of sofa pods to resolve the common problem of noise distractions and sit-stand desks aimed at their developers who can spend a couple of hours straight coding.
“Our sofa pods are acoustic, so the team can now hold meetings away from their desks without interrupting others. We also encourage employees to just go and sit in the pods to read and think,” Rachel King, breatheHR’s marketing and sales director, adds.
Getting the aesthetics and sound of an office right are part of creating an ideal working environment. Blood says that employees are the most expensive asset of any business and the more they are cared for, the more likely they will want to stick around, so it’s important an employer makes it as easy as possible for them to do their job.
One way to do this is to assist with them with seating positions. Ergonomic furniture is valuable, but employees need to know how to manipulate it to meet their own needs.
At Paramount Properties, an independent agency focused on the North London area, every new recruit has a visit from an instructor.
“Within a couple of weeks of joining, a health and safety instructor gave me advice about how to sit at my desk, to prevent neck, back, eye and posture issues… including using a foot rest,” says Alex Fegredo, part of the accounts team. “The change in seating took a lot of getting used to, but in the long run the adjustments suggested have made my day-to-day life more comfortable.”
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