The Office "Ouch Factor"

Expert tips for improving workers’ posture

Neck strain. Lower back pain. Even aches in the legs. There’s an “ouch factor” in the office—and among the biggest culprits to workplace injury are the many hours we spend sitting.

Sitting has been described as the new smoking because of a litany of health risks tied to inactivity. But standing all day isn’t healthy either.

People need to understand that static posture is bad. You shouldn’t stand all day. You shouldn’t sit all day.     
         
—Teresa Bellingar, Ph.D., CPE.

Bellingar is our Senior Corporate Ergonomist on staff at Haworth, where she is responsible for consulting on product development and evaluations to ensure ergonomics and the Americans with Disabilities Act are considered during the design process. Before joining Haworth’s research team, she taught at Illinois State University in the area of occupational safety.

Effects Occur Over Time

While some postures make people feel comfortable when they are in them, they can lead to ill spinal health over time, Bellingar said.

It was easier to help employees with ergonomics when they were sitting in front of big, eye-level computers on their desks and typing away on keyboards. But the shrinking of technology in some ways has worsened people’s posture—they are more likely to hunch over with their necks bent when working on laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

That’s why Haworth is developing products that will support workers ergonomically in different postures.

Bellingar encourages people to use external monitors, keyboards, and mice with their laptops or tablets to help with their posture.

“It's about keeping a good posture, no matter if you are standing or sitting,” she said.

The shrinking of technology in some ways has worsened people’s posture. They are more likely to hunch over with their necks bent when working on laptops, tablets, and smartphones. 

Posture and Cognition
Did you know a person’s posture can also impact cognition? Seated posture can affect how people think about themselves and perform certain tasks, according to our research.

Sitting upright may be the best posture for convergent thinking—which requires logic and helps with problem solving—while moving about and changing postures frequently help with divergent thinking—which is more abstract or philosophical.

An essential furniture piece for office workers is a height-adjustable desk, so they can trade off between sitting and standing positions.

Bellingar encourages people to change postures—such as getting up and walking and engaging in light activity—for at least two minutes every hour. She also encourages people to add more movement during their work days. One way is by walking to a coworker’s desk for a conversation instead of sending an email.

Bellingar takes care of her own posture by doing the following:

  • Gets in a minimum of 10,000 steps a day at work.
  •  Begins every workday with a loop around the building.
  • Always takes the stairs. 
  • Works out almost every day. (She is also a Pilates instructor.)

“I’m forever walking around and asking people—that I’m friends with—to please sit up straight. It just hurts me to see bad posture because I know what it is doing to their backs.”

Interested in more in-depth ergonomics? Read more of Bellingar’s research here:

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