ergonomics er·go·nom·ics (ûr'g?-nom'iks)
The applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort. (1)
The modern office is designed around efficiency and comfort, which go hand in hand. People are far more productive when they are comfortable and healthy. Ergonomic office furniture is designed to keep the body in optimized positions so that long term posture and joint health is protected. This includes both sitting and standing positions, so that a bit of movement is implied in ergonomic consideration. The benefits of good ergonomics are keeping your health and your comfort. The dangers of bad ergonomics over a long period include:
Modern ergonomic furniture is adjustable and designed to allow different body types to be able to position themselves in optimal positions, and to alter these positions throughout the day. The main parts of the body to consider when thinking about ergonomics are the neck, shoulder, elbows, wrists, back, knees and ankles.
When different parts of your body are poorly positioned over long periods of time, different maladies can result.
If the head is out of position, neck pain and headaches are common occurrences. The same goes if the neck is not properly positioned, as one implies the other.
Often, when a chair is too low or too high, the shoulders have to work to adjust. This can cause rotator-cuff strain and elbow maladies such as "golfer's elbow." (2)
There are a number of ways the back can be poorly positioned or supported. These can lead to long term back and neck pain and headaches.
The legs and feet are important as well. Ergonomics actually starts at the ground, and relies on the paths gravity takes through the body as it pulls each part of us downward. With good leg and feet positioning, you allow the rest of your body to have the foundation it needs to find optimal positions. With your feet out of position, you give the rest of your body a lesser chance at optimal positioning.
Although movement throughout the day is a key to good ergonomics, there is a blue-print for good seated positioning that can be followed below.
Good ergonomics in the work place increases productivity by an average of 17%. (2) Optimal seated positioning means less time needed to stretch and move around, as well as increased long term comfort. These double factors alone are enough to make a significant impact on work performance. However, even with perfect seated ergonomic positioning, movement, standing and stretching are needed periodically to ensure health.
Obviously, certain types of chairs are more conducive to ergonomic considerations than others, and the office chair is the most important piece of furniture to consider in the pursuit of ergonomics. A good way to supplement your chair is to invest in a good sit + stand desk. This will allow you to continue working during those periods where your back and joints feel like they need some extended standing time in order to remain healthy and pain-free.
Do yourself, your employees (or your employer) a favor and invest in good ergonomic modern office furniture. You will be happier, healthier and more productive!
(1) Dictionary.com "ergonomics," in The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. Source location: Houghton Mifflin Company. © 1995
(2) "Does Your Chair Have Your Back?" in The Wall Street Journal, September 21, 2001