The ergonomic chair is office workers’ best friend. It supports their natural posture, reduces risk of chronic neck and back pain, increases comfort, and makes working easy. Quite often, sitting in anatomically-correct chairs is what turns working into an enjoyed, rather than endured, activity.
For office managers, making the people more comfortable means making the office more productive. In the long run, introducing ergonomic furniture into the workspace results in increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, improved work safety, and higher job satisfaction and morale.
However, not all office furniture advertised as ‘ergonomic’ is actually beneficial for your workers and a good investment. Here are some of the features you should look for, and avoid, in an ergonomic office chair.
Adjustable Lumbar Support. At its minimum, any office chair built with body mechanics in mind should have a curvature built into the lower seat back to support the natural sitting posture of the user. At its best, the lumbar support should be both asymmetric and adjustable, allowing users to adjust the height of their chair by several inches and also independently adjust support on either side of the spine.
Adjustable Seat Height. This is one of the most important features of your office chair. Getting the right height adjustment (the top of the cushion should be just below your kneecap) allows for an even body weight distribution and a healthy position, with knees at a 90° angle and feet flat on the floor. Adjusting the height of your chair is the starting point of the rest of the chair adjustments and a good way to verify the ergonomics of the rest of your workstation.
Recline/Tilt Function. Studies have found that sitting in a reclined position with a 135° angle between the thighs and the torso provides full body support, putting the least stress on the spine and also reducing the risk of chronic back pain. The capability of the chair to recline/tilt in order to provide a variety of adjustable positions is, thus, essential.
Adjustable Armrests. Supporting arm weight reduces muscle loading and the stress to the spine, being a fundamental feature for proper fit. Armrests that are not adjustable will create pressure points in the elbow and forearm areas, in time increasing the risk of injury and chronic pain. To accommodate people with different sizes and task requirements, a proper office chair would ideally provide adjustment in armrest height, front-to-back movement, and width and pivot.Adequate padding is also an essential feature.
Recline Locks. According to office furniture maker Humanscale, using a recline lock or limiter will restrict movement necessary for spinal nutrition. Because the spine doesn’t move as a single unit, locking the chair into a fixed position will prevent users from moving freely in their chairs.
Non-Adjustable Seat Pan. To allow a healthy sitting position, there should be 2-3 inches between the back of the knee and the top of the cushion, allowing for a natural bend in the leg. A too-short seat pan will not provide adequate support under the thighs, creating pressure points and discomfort, while a seat pan that is too long will not allow the user to sit back into the chair, thus increasing pressure behind the knees.
Mesh Seating. From an ergonomic point of view, a mesh seating surface is not as good at distributing body weight as the better-contoured foam or gel cushions. For someone who sits more than 5-6 hours per day, a stiff mesh will not be able to reduce the pressure incurred by the hips and spine, rendering the chair uncomfortable and unsupportive.
It’s important to note that, even when equipped with high-performance features for maximum ergonomic benefit, the chair itself can only do so much to support the user in the context of working. Since people engage in many other activities besides sitting, reading documents, typing, looking at the computer screen, the chair should be only a part of a fully ergonomic workstation that promotes working comfort and health. Contact your local ergonomic furniture provider to discuss your options for successfully mitigating the health issues arising from prolonged sitting.
Lynne Lemieux, Founder and President of Alliance Interiors Inc., has devoted more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing growth opportunities for some of Canada's leading office furniture dealers. Her ability to provide clients with inspiring and versatile interior solutions for both business and home office environments has garnered her title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year in the city of Toronto for 2012. In her spare time, Lynne takes an active interest in politics, public speaking, and philanthropy, but also enjoys gardening, interior decorating, cooking, yoga, and traveling.