We’re always getting told to “sit up straight!” all through our school years, by caring parents and stern teachers concerned about our posture.
Still, we revert back to our slouching ways every time.
But now that I’ve entered working life, I see the sobering reality that it’s not just about good behaviour or politeness.
The true reason for the warning is to keep our backs from breaking after hunching over a screen from 9 to 6, five days every week.
I’m just turning 24 this year, and I’m already constantly lamenting an aching neck; sometimes along with a tension headache that creeps up from my stiff muscles too.
It didn’t take long for me to learn that many of my colleagues are plagued by similar aches and pains. In some ways, I might say I found solace in this, but most of all I was concerned.
So when I heard that an ergonomics expert wanted to have a look at our postures in the office, I was ready to see what advice he had to dish out.
The expert we’re speaking to is Dale Tan, a local product designer who has been focused on ergonomic furniture for the past ten years.
In 2008, he founded his company, TakeAseat, that provides a range of ergonomic solutions to help people find the best fit in their working or studying environments.
Hunched Over, Sprawled Out: Some Reasons Why We’re In Pain
First, I had to sneak a few photos of my coworkers in their natural state for Dale to examine them. I found four victims who each had different habits.
Like me, you probably know people on both ends of the spectrum, who either look super intense, or way too relaxed while they’re working at their seats.
I’d think Zafirah falls within the first category, as I often notice her hunched over, leaning close to her laptop as she furiously types away on the keyboard.
The first thing Dale notices is how the low position of Zafirah’s screen causes her to crane her body forward and her neck downward—the reason for neck and shoulder aches.
He calls it the “crouching tiger”, and says many people have this problem due to our common use of laptops, despite the fact that not all of us need a compact computer to bring out of the office.
“Laptops are good for people who move from place to place, like property agents or salespeople. But they score badly for daily use in the office as they’re not made for long hours of sitting,” he says.
The second thing is that her arms have to bend up awkwardly to meet the keyboard, which can cause wrist pain.
To fix these, Dale suggests using a stand to raise Zafirah’s laptop closer to eye-level, and possibly installing a keyboard drawer, where she can use a wireless keyboard placed at the right height for her arms to relax.
On the other hand, as I made my rounds about the office, I found Dew sitting so comfortably, slouched low into his chair.
Dale congratulates Dew on getting his screen leveled with his line of sight, but it isn’t all good here.
“He sacrificed his lower back for that upper body comfort,” he says.
It’s back to the age-old advice, with Dale telling Dew he’ll do better “sitting straight up” so his lower back can properly lean on the chair for support.
Larger monitors, together with a monitor arm, are one way to make sure you don’t have to sink into your seat to be on eye-level with your work, he suggests.
Next up, here’s Esther. Her posture looks really uncomfortable to me, and she confirms that sitting like this has been a downright torture.
Buried deep into her work at times, she has yet to find a way to adjust her working space to suit her better.
“She’s got the big screen she needs to view at eye-level, but in this case, it has come down to bad sitting habits,” Dale says.
And to break them, she may have to start using a mirror on her desk to check and adjust her posture.
He also suggests forming a habit of getting up to stretch every hour or so, and then repositioning your posture every time you get back in your seat.
On top of that, convertible standing desks can be useful for people who often want to switch between sitting and standing, and can lighten the load on your back too.
I think this is as close as we may come to a model example of good posture in the office—Daniel probably sits straighter than 90% of us, and he even has his monitor raised so that he doesn’t have to crane his neck.
Even Dale agrees, and gives Daniel his seal of approval. “Perfect example of ergonomic posture in the office,” he says.
Daniel checks all the boxes, having his monitor raised to his eye-level, his armrests aligned with the table to keep it easy on his wrists, and his back fully pressed against his seat.
As a bonus, I also got one of my colleagues to snap a shot of me when I was sitting down, so I could see how my own posture fares too.
Dale tells me I’m another crouching tiger, leaning forward to accommodate my laptop.
Given my size, there’s a gap between myself and the chair’s backrest, where I wedge a pillow in to get more support.
Instead of that, Dale says ergonomic chairs that allow adjustments can help, as I’d be able to match the chair’s depth and lumbar support to my body.
“Once you are leaning on the chair right, your laptop should be moved to accommodate your posture, not the other way round,” he reminds me.
How Ergonomics Can Improve Your Working Environment
After hearing from Dale, we got right to putting his suggestions in place—at least for things we could change immediately.
Before, I never even noticed that my backrest isn’t positioned where it should be.
Then I started adjusting my chair, and I instantly knew I’ve been missing out on something once I felt the lumbar support fit the curve of my lower back like a jigsaw puzzle.
Learning to lean back in my seat still takes getting used to, but I soon noticed the conscious act of readjusting my posture helps me get ‘in the zone’ with my work.
Most of us haven’t paid attention to ergonomics before, so my colleagues were also surprised that small adjustments could make them feel so much better.
While Esther gets up now and then for a stretch and feels more refreshed, Zafirah says her shoulders feel relieved as she rarely bends forward anymore after raising boosting screen up higher.
Overall, we’re starting to shape up with better backs than we had before the experiment.
Posture is never really the top priority on anyone’s mind at work—precisely why we end up hurting—but it pays off to treat it with a little more importance.
Beyond just making ourselves feel nice and comfortable, ergonomics in the office or any workspace helps employees reach a deeper focus.
Along with that comes less frustration and fatigue caused by the environment, which can make workers more productive instead.
Of course for us, more than anything, we’ll be glad if we can avoid getting back, neck and wrist injuries too early in life.
To learn more about ergonomics, and products that can help you achieve a better fit in your working environment, visit TakeAseat here.
This article was written in collaboration with TakeAseat.