Workstation Ergonomics – You and Your Desk
If you spend 8 hours a day, 5 days per week, 48 weeks per year with someone, it stands to reason that that would be a very significant relationship in your life. For most of us that is the case with our chair, desk and workstation. However, not all of us see this relationship in this light. I understand why, but nevertheless we must change our perception of how we interact with our place of work.
What Does it Mean?
In one way, the lack of emphasis we place on our workstation is not our fault. The first day you sit in your chair, at your desk, it does not usually cause any issues. If you “sit wrong” or its just “not perfect”, by enlarge you will not develop a problem on the day (this is a generalisation, it can affect people immediately). Sitting too low or too high or slightly too far away from the desk appears inconsequential, the mind does not register it as a threat. You will go on like this for an unknown amount of time until it starts to become a problem.
Again, it may be a slow progression to a more serious issue. One of the most common myths around workplace aches and pains is that it is “normal to feel these things” or it is as a result of “aging”. Neither of these are true because no matter your age, even low-level pains and aches are a warning sign that one area of the body is under too much pressure or in the wrong position. Because it is not dramatic, we tend not to register it as a problem.
Workstation and the Gym
If you were to apply that same logic to your workout in the gym, how long before you think you would develop a problem? For example, every time you carried out a squat, your back hurt. Most people would say that you need to change your technique or alter your “form” and there would be an urgency about it. Gym exercises tend to exert high pressure on the body in a very short space of time but sitting incorrectly at your desk is a low-level pressure over a very long period of time.
Essentially, both can have the same end result, it will just take longer to get to the problem via the sitting route. We all have colleague who sits slumped at their desk, they are easy to spot, and it just doesn’t look right. But now think, would you ever perform a gym exercise in that position? A good rule of thumb is that if its not right for the gym, then it shouldn’t be okay at the workstation!
Adapt the Workstation, Not Your Posture
In the gym, what we are taking about is referred to as “form” but at the workstation it is known by a different name, posture. This is a word we are all familiar with but the link between how our workstation is set up and our posture is often disconnected.
“For most of us posture is something that we are aware of, genuinely try to keep right, but ultimately forget about as soon as work gets busy or we get tired.”
You do not sit the way you sit by accident, it is often predetermined based on our chair and desk set up. For example:
If the lumbar (low back) support on your chair is in the wrong position:
Positioned Too Low: It will push out your low back, taking away the normal curvature of the spine in this area. Essentially it is pushing you into a slump.
Positioned Too High: It will dig into the lower segments of your mid back, forcing them to round in the wrong direction. This often makes people sit too straight and develop mid-back tightness or sit forward off the backrest as it is not comfortable over the course of your day.
In both scenarios, you cannot maintain the correct position even if you wanted. However, if the lumbar support is in the right position, it should feel comfortable (no pressure) and stable (you can hold that position without having to constantly change). Therefore, if work gets really busy, then you will not automatically lose your corrected position because the support is in place and it feels comfortable.
To use the gym example again, you need the correct form even at lower weights before progressing to higher ones. If your technique goes out the window as the weight increases, then it most likely wasn’t correct in the first place. To put that into the context of your workstation, if you lose your “good posture” as soon as you get very busy or tired, then it too was not correct. The principles are the same.
Expectations of a Workstation Assessment
I ask many people do they know how to use their chair. Predominantly, I get two answers:
“No, I’ve never played around with it”
Or my personal favourite “Yes, you sit in it!!!”
Both are valid but they require changing your mindset. For example, taking the time to learn how all the different functions on your chair work can only benefit you in the longer term. The greater adaptability you have at your workstation, the higher the chance of finding comfort and maintaining it.
Essentially, Workstation Ergonomics is combination of form / technique / posture / positioning all with common goal of preventing pain, injury and reducing the pressures on the body. It is a skill that everyone should have some knowledge on and treat with the importance that the time you spend on at our desk warrants.
It is like any other practice in our life, we need to be trained correctly in it and apply it to the best of our abilities. Always think, what do I want to achieve from sitting at a desk all day and then make the necessary changes and stick with them to make sure that you achieve your goals.
W - What I do every day matters in the long term
O - Office work is not going anywhere
R – Respect your workstation and the effects it has
K – Keep to the necessary changes once implemented
S – Sitting is the number one daily posture for most of us
T - Train ourselves on best practice
A - Adjustability is key, so learn what works for you
T - Time spent learning how to do this will be repaid
I – If you wouldn’t squat like that, don’t sit like that
O - Only you can make the changes
N – Never underestimate the importance of your workstation