The horrifying truth behind your poor office set-up
In 2018, it was reported that the majority of UK office workers, around 81% in fact, spent between four and nine hours sitting at their desk each day. Of those surveyed, 64% claimed their office environment was having a negative impact on their physical health.
That’s a lot of hours racked up in a sedentary position. And when health experts in recent times have attributed prolonged sitting to increased risk of cardiometabolic diseases and premature mortality, it’s vital that we improve our office set-ups, yet it’s something that we often overlook.
The effect of a poor office set-up on office workers
The common conditions associated with a poor office environment relate to poor posture, backaches, repetitive strain injury (RSI), headaches, and obesity, but the list doesn’t end there.
For instance, poor office lighting, brightness and screen glares can have a considerable impact on workers, causing fatigue and discomfort, as the body has to adapt to the contrasting ambience. So not only is your body impacted, but your mind is, too.
One of the biggest contributing factors to a poor office set-up is a deficient office chair and defective workstation. Poorly fitted office furniture has been known to increase the chances of workers developing musculoskeletal disorders. How often do you find yourself slumped over at your desk, hunched over your keyboard, or slouched halfway out of your chair? But when you’re sitting there for almost eight hours a day, it’s difficult not to end up in these positions.
The relation of office set-ups to RSI
Another important factor impacting physical health is the set-up of a desk and its link to RSI. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy reported that nearly half a million of UK workers suffered from upper limb RSI, and RSI.org reported that 1 in 50 of all UK workers had reported a condition of RSI.
Prolonged and repetitive movements – that may be forceful or awkward – can cause RSI, resulting in damage to tendons, muscles and nerves, which can cause weakness, numbness, pain and an impairment to motor control. And since UK office workers spend a considerable amount of time sitting, moving mice, and typing on a daily basis, the figures aren’t surprising but are very worrying.
The effect of a bad office space on mental health
It’s not just our bodies that suffer. Office workers can also suffer from fatigue and poor mental health from bad workplace arrangements, and it’s only recently that a light has started to shine on these areas. If you don’t provide a healthy office space, workers can become more tired, sluggish, demotivated, which all has a lasting and negative effect on their overall mental health, not to mention productivity.
Juachi Ezenwa, founder of Journey with Ju, says most people overlook their mental health:
“Making your workspace more ergonomic goes beyond the physical impacts such as your comfort level, positioning of your body, etc. It also applies to the impact your workspace can have on your mental/psychological well being. People often overlook this and focus solely on the physical aspects. There are psychosocial factors (non-physical) such as high workload/ work pressure, lack of emotional/social support, that can lead to such as fatigue, stress and burnout.”
So, what does a good office set-up look like?
One person who can answer this question is Nick Pollitt, MD here at DBI Furniture Solutions, as he’s helped to transform many poor workplaces into ones that (quite literally) support their staff.
Pollitt stresses the importance of high-quality and ergonomic office furniture and office desks, both for better physical health and productivity. He says “it’s crucial you get adjustable and ergonomic office chairs so workers can set them to their individual needs, as well as making sure there is enough tailored leg room and back support. This means posture is improved significantly and that circulation is healthier.”
Guidance from a panel of experts, commissioned by Public Health England recommends office workers break up prolonged sitting by standing, or taking short active breaks for at least two hours during working hours, and encourages the use of sit-stand desks. We value these so much because of the incredible health benefits they provide.
Jörg Bakschas, an independent workspace specialist from Adapt Global Group also praises sit-stand desks: “Sit-stand desks are fantastic, but most people overlook them. You’ll find many workers that have a sit-stand desk will still sit all the time! It’s crucial that you use these to break up prolonged sitting and that you take regular breaks to increase circulation and movement.”
Pollitt also recognises the importance of helping prevent RSI, eye strain and headaches in the workplace with the use of adjustable monitor arms and stands. He notes “one of the key parts to making sure you are sat at your desk correctly is positioning yourself and office equipment at the right levels and making sure monitors meet your eye level with the brightness low and no glare.”
Bakschas echoes this: “Monitors need to be adjusted so that they are an arm’s length away. You can also use a second monitor to get a better overview of documents you’re working on as well as windows.”
For office workers, we spend years of our lives sitting down at our desks, clicking, typing and staring at screens, so we mustn’t overlook the impact this can have on our overall health, and the interventions we can put in place to significantly improve it. With all the statistics and guidance at hand on what years of sedentary behaviour and a poor office set-up can do to us, we’ll certainly think twice about our posture and workstation arrangements to make sure we don’t end up with poor health like Person A down the line! Scary stuff, right?