In the last installation of my series on Aspects of Well-being we talked about some general tips for keeping interactions between coworkers calm and on point. This week I’d like to touch on another important aspect of well-being and office life – ergonomics.
This is perhaps the most controversial topic in this series. Not because anyone would argue that ergonomics aren’t important – rather because everyone has their own idea of what “proper office ergonomics” is. And they often hold these ideas close to their hearts and can take great offense when they feel these ideas are under attack.
So in the interest of not starting a flame war or upsetting any trolls out there, let me start by saying that like most aspects of well-being – there is no One Size Fits All answer. My goal is for you to realize that if your back hurts at the end of the day, or if you’re inexplicably grumpy by early afternoon, you might benefit from trying some of the tips below and finding something that works better…for YOU.
Some of the most common physical complaints of office bound workers are lower back pain, carpal tunnel (or related) pain in the hands, nerve problems in the hands, and hip pain. The majority of these symptoms can be traced back to hours upon hours spent sitting, with both hands stretched in front of your body and closer together than the shoulders. In other words, hours spent sitting and typing (or mousing).
Now, I don’t know about you, I get pretty grumpy when my back hurts and I have tingling in my hand. So when I leave the office, I may end up taking it out on the first person I see, be it a loved one, a friend, or Mr/Ms Random on the street. In all of these cases, my physical issue has now spread and become an issue with my overall well-being by affecting my relationships. I’m grumpy and now I’ve ticked off my friend too. Lovely.
Tip 1: Move it or lose it.
Get up and walk every hour. It can be as simple as walking down the hall to the restroom, or to get a glass of water in the break room. Try to be out of your seat for at least 5 minutes every hour, even if all you can do is head down the hall and back, great. Do it. Take a few deep breaths and try to focus consciously on your posture, keeping your shoulders back and down and your hands swinging freely at your sides. This will keep your shoulders open and help stop the nerves that run through them from becoming impinged – which is what causes that tingling in the hands.
Tip 2: Mix it up.
Try working from the break room (if it’s quiet enough for you), or an empty conference room. Maybe there are bar height tables you can try standing at to work for 30 minutes. Any change in posture from your usual sitting pose can be beneficial. Take a walk at lunch instead of sitting at your desk the whole time. Eat outside if you can (watch out for birds and squirrels, they can be wiley when it comes to lunch theft).
Tip 3: Be a stand up person.
No post on office ergonomics these days is complete without a discussion of the standing desk. Personally, I use one and would never go back. Here’s the thing, my day job also involves a lot of walking. This means that I’m NOT standing in place for 8 hours a day – which can be just as bad for your health and well-being as sitting still. If you’re unsure, I can offer these additional tips:
Take it slow – start by standing for 10 minutes, then sit back down. Then in a week, try 20 minute stretches. Then 30 minutes, etc until you find the mix of standing and sitting that works. FOR YOU.
Experiment – there are $25 cardboard options out there now, so you can pull it out and try standing for a while, then fold it back up and take a seat. You don’t have to drop (or your company doesn’t have to) hundreds on powered sit/stand desks to see the benefits.
Eyes forward – Whether you’re sitting or standing, remember to keep your monitor directly in front of your eyes with your head neutral, and your keyboard at a height so that your elbows are bent at ~90 degrees.
There are many, many, many, many (get the hint here?) more tips out there. Like I said, this is a rabbit hole of a topic and in the interest of not losing readers I wanted to keep this to my top 3. I’m sure we’ll revisit this at a later date to go into more detail. Next up in this series on Aspects of Well-being – your work environment.