Working in an office is not exactly good for your health. This is something that most of us are now all-too-aware of – practically every blog tells us as much after all!
But while it’s all good and well to shout about the problem in a bombastic, headline-grabbing manner, it’s not really much use. What would be far more helpful would be to look at what the problems are specifically and how we can then go about fixing some of them.
Instead of sitting at your desk with a slight nagging feeling that you’re ruining your health, follow these steps and take action to overturn some of the worst offending issues in your workspace.
Problem 1: Posture
Okay, let’s start with the big one.
Sitting in an office chair all day will cause you to adopt an unhealthy posture for far too long. Specifically, you’ll be leaning forward to reach your desk, which is going to in turn cause you to round your back and shoulders. You’ll potentially also be craning your neck upward at the same time to look at your monitor, while your legs will be fixed in the same position. That position simultaneously stretches the hip extensors (gluts, hamstrings) and shortens the hip flexors (quadriceps). The result is ultimately tightness and imbalance that can lead to an anterior pelvic tilt, back pain, kyphosis, and limited mobility.
Right, so how do we fix this?
First of all, you should make sure you have the best office furniture and even things like mice and keyboards. The JasonL ergonomic guide is a great place for managers to start. The key here is to remember that all body types are different: we have different leg and spine lengths and thus we need adjustable furniture in order to get the most from it. Also important is proper training to show staff how to adopt the correct posture at work.
Best of all though, is to offer multiple seating options for employees so that they can move from around from time to time. This is also great for encouraging teamwork, collaboration, and learning between departments. Encourage regular breaks from work as well and even consider standing desks.
If you are an employee then speak to your manager. If they won’t listen, then you can consider contacting HR or taking matters into your own hands. Using a chair cushion with lumbar support can do a lot to mitigate a poor office chair for instance. Likewise, you can educate yourself on the best position for your monitor etc.
Problem 2: Light
Another big issue is light, which is all wrong in most offices. Humans need natural light in order to stimulate the production of wakefulness hormones and to help us set our biological rhythms. Without this, we can experience SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and difficulties getting to sleep at night.
Not only that, but the blue light created by a lot of office lighting and computer monitors can further throw our sleep-wake cycles into disarray.
The solution here is ideally to increase the amount of natural light making its way into the office by adding skylights, larger windows etc.
But again, this falls to management and isn’t something staff will usually have a say in. The alternative solution then is to invest in a daylight lamp for your desk. This will create a natural light that mimics the light outside and has a similar effect on the brain.
Meanwhile, you can also use redshift technology to lessen the harsh blue-light from your monitor. You can get apps that do this, but actually it’s now possible to do it through Windows 10 by opening up the side menu and then choosing ‘night light’.
Problem 3: Stress
The big problem though is the stress that you can experience in the work place. This is made worse by the health issues that we’ve already discussed, but in itself being in a state of anxiety can be very damaging to your effectiveness and your mental health.
When we are stressed, our body goes into a state called ‘fight or flight’. Here, we experience an elevated heartrate, muscle contraction, racing thoughts, rapid shallow breathing, and even the redirection of bloodflow toward the muscles and brain (away from the digestive system or immune system). In the short term, this helps us to respond to danger but in the long term it can take a very serious toll on us and eventually prove fatal.
One solution is understanding the effect that stress has on your body and on your mental health. Just making the conscious decision to subject yourself to less stress where possible can have a big positive impact. Likewise though, you should also consider the use of other stress management techniques: that might mean using tools such as cognitive behavioural therapy, or meditation in order to lower the heartrate and relax the muscles.
It’s also important that change be at management level once again. Employers need to recognize the potential negative impacts that tight deadlines can have on their staff and they need to provide the emotional and psychological support where necessary.
As you can see then, there are a number of ways that office work can negatively impact on health. But the fact of the matter is that the office is not going anywhere. This is a crucial staple of modern life. So rather than crying about it, we should instead be looking for proactive ways to improve our lifestyles and mitigate those negative repercussions. That starts with you.
And it means thinking about your lifestyle outside of work. If sitting for 8 hours in a dark room is bad for you during the day, then coming home and sitting on the couch looking at another screen is not the answer.
We can continue to be productive and healthy. In fact, one will almost always promote the other. So take a little time to do the most important R&D there is: focussing on you.