Ergonomics: A Chair By Any Other Name Couldn't Feel As Sweet.
We’ve been welcoming so many of you to our community of posture conscious party people for the first time over the last little while so I wanted to take this opportunity to go back to basics. For the month of August, I’ll be working to catch you all up to speed. If you haven’t had the chance yet you can read last week’s post all about what makes up a kneeling chair.
One thing I wanted to take the time to talk about this week is ergonomics. It’s one of those fancy-sounding buzz words that people love to throw around the office and the internet (hello!). There’s a lot of pressure placed on the word- a lot of people think it’s the answer to all their problems… but do you really know what it means?
That’s not a rhetorical question…. do you actually know what it means? ...I’ll wait.
Okay, fine I’ll tell you.
Dictionary.com defines “ergonomics” as being “human engineering”
That’s literally the entire definition in the dictionary- that’s all it says!! “Human Engineering”- what are we supposed to do with that?! That’s a very broad stroke of a definition, and to be honest, I find it makes it even more unclear- they didn’t even use it in a sentence!
I kept scrolling the dictionary.com page for “ergonomics” and at the bottom of the page in small writing, there was a note that said:
The term is most often encountered in discussions of the design of furniture, tools, and other things built to be used by humans.
That was a little better, but it’s still not 100% clear.
I’ve been writing about ergonomic related things every week for the past year and a half as well as being heavily involved in the design, creation and selling process of ergonomic furniture, and in that time I’ve developed what I think is a solid understanding of the meaning of the word ergonomic.
What ergonomics is NOT is a magic cure to all your aches and pains.
What it IS is the study of our bodies and our day to day habits and the science behind making furniture that will adapt to us so we no longer have to adapt to our environment. Basically, it helps fit the job to the person.
Which, I guess is “human engineering”, but like…. a way more understandable way to put it.
If we pay attention to our own habits and how our bodies react to the furniture in our lives we will be able to (hopefully) adjust things to meet our needs and we can wind up being much more productive, comfortable and happy. If you’ve found yourself cruising through our blog then you are probably searching for some type of change- and it’s likely that change can be achieved by altering the furniture you’re using.
Now that we’ve covered the basic definition of ergonomics (to the best of our ability) let’s discuss why oh why it’s so important.
Ergonomic set-ups can so often be overlooked and ignored and deemed an unnecessary expense by employers, as well as employees. It’s a relatively new concept that’s only been around as long as offices and it has yet to be considered a major priority for people. It often isn’t thought of until it’s too late and injury has already revealed itself. Research on the effects of sitting and poor posture is plentiful and the general consensus is that how you sit really makes or breaks your health and wellness.
For the sake of light reading, I’ve broken down 3 major reasons why you should be improving the ergonomics in your life.
Here’s a crazy piece of information for you directly from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (or OSHA, if you wanna get friendly). According to them work-related musculoskeletal disorders caused by repetitive movements, sitting in awkward positions or straining the neck to look at a computer screen and static postures and lack of breaks account for more than 15 BILLION DOLLARS in workers’ compensation costs a year…. WHAT?!!
Does this number not seem ridiculously high to you?
When they refer to musculoskeletal disorders they are referring to a wide array of possible (and awful) injuries such as:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Rotator cuff injuries (affects the shoulder)
- Epicondylitis (affects the elbow)
- Trigger finger
- Muscle strains and low back injuries
Did you know work-related MSDs are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2013, MSD cases accounted for 33% of all worker injury and illness cases.
Did you also know employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their workers?!? It’s true! In the workplace, the number and severity of MSDs resulting from physical overexertion, and their associated costs, can be substantially reduced by applying ergonomic principles. Really it’s a win-win for both employee and employer. Fewer injuries mean more productive work time and less money spent on worker's compensation.
We could preach this to you until the cows come home (in fact we sort of do) but if you are comfortable you will stay focused longer. It’s just a fact! If you’re comfortable you will look for fewer reasons to get up and move around, your mind will be calm allowing you to focus on your tasks. Although, we’d like to state for the record that it’s very helpful to get up every hour and take a stretch break, no matter how ergonomic your set up is.
You know that wall that tends to hit around 3 pm? That moment in the day when you lose all focus and momentum and all you can think about is getting up, stretching, having a snack and walking out of your life as you know it moving to New Mexico and becoming a painter? Yeah, us too.
Although a good ergonomic set up won’t suppress your desires to give it all up to practice art, it will help you stay on task more by keeping your body comfortable and fresh. Discomfort puts us on edge- it makes us cranky, impatient and less tolerable of BS. If we’re comfortable it’s one less thing on our plate that we have to deal with so we are better equipped to get down to business.
Improves Employees Engagement.
If you’re an employer looking to create a workplace that makes your employees feel appreciated, seen and valued a great way to do that is to consider their comfort. Employees notice when the company is putting forth their best efforts to ensure their health and safety. Plus, as we stated above- if an employee doesn’t experience fatigue and discomfort during their workday, it can reduce turnover, decrease absenteeism, improve morale and increase employee involvement.
If you are an employee, or your own boss (shout out to the freelancers!) and are struggling to figure out how to ask for a better, more ergonomic work set up, this could be a great way to frame your request! We get that it can be difficult to ask for things, but the long term benefits (or harm that could be done) are real! When it comes down to it, your boss wants a team of productive people who help them kick butt, not a crew of carpel tunneled, back spasmed, sciatica riddled workers! Ask for the chair you need- you’ll both be better off.
Okay, so we’ve covered WHAT ergonomics is, WHY we need it… it’s time for HOW to adopt good posture habits into your life.
This one is a lot easier said than done. Trust me, the more I learn about posture the more I want to improve my own, but it can be so difficult to make the necessary changes.
The force of habit is a huge obstacle that most of us lose the battle too. We’ve been sitting, standing, and walking the same way our entire lives- the practicality of changing this is...well...impractical. Our habits have become so strongly rooted within us as a way of functioning and coping in the everyday world that we often find ourselves running on automatic and quickly create habits that stay with us for years. Over time these habits may not serve us as well as they once did when we first developed them, or they may have been bad habits from the beginning. With every passing day, these habits become more deeply ingrained in us making them incredibly difficult to get rid of.
It’s in our nature to be comforted by the familiar and what ‘feels right’. I have bad news...as long as we are relying on what ‘feels right’ we are going to continue to make these same mistakes - in order to make a change we must be prepared to ‘feel wrong’. Part of the problem of reinforcing habits comes from our relationship to our kinesthetic sense. The kinesthetic sense is sometimes called "muscle memory," and is the awareness of our own movement, for example when we walk, eat, write, or brush our teeth.
Due to our kinesthetic sense, we begin to believe that the aches and pains we experience from our daily lives are just how it is for us. We are quick to assume that the way we walk, sit, drive is just “how we do it” without ever taking the opportunity to check in and see what changes we could make.
Pairing an ergonomic workspace with a consciousness of our own human ergonomics is the key to being usefully conscious.
Time for us to spit some head, neck, back facts.
If the muscles of your neck are free enough that your head can balance on the top of your spine and not be held in place, if your back can be long and wide and not compressed, then your postural balance will be optimal and your entire system will be disposed to function more efficiently and with less effort. We’re talking a reduction in aches and pains, good posture, increased energy, improved confidence and self-control, enhanced athletic performance, clarity in thinking and greater self-awareness.
Sounds good right? We agree.
The sum up is this: ergonomics is difficult to define with words, but when you’ve got good ergonomics you know it… and if it’s bad, well, you may not know it until it’s too late. Each of us is a unique snowflake that has our own needs, which means have a good ergonomic work set up is going to look different for each of us, so try not to compare yourself to others. There are general rules that are important to keep in mind, but at the end of the day, your habits are different than mine so you’re going to need different tools to help you form new ones.
If you have a standard-sized desk then the best place to start making practical changes in your chair- and we aren’t just saying that because chairs are our bread and butter. A good chair, newfound self-awareness and the determination to not fall victim to bad posture are the stepping stones to fixing your posture.
What steps are you taking to make improvements to your posture every day? Leave us a comment below- changes are easier to make when you have friends to help hold you accountable… so sit up straight, wouldya?!