If you work in an office, you probably spend most, if not all, of your workday sitting. A survey conducted by the corrective lens company Acuvue found that office workers spend 6.5 hours on average sitting. Over the course of a year, that’s approximately 1,700 hours sitting.
Whether you spend more or less time sitting, though, you can protect yourself from joint pain and even increase your productivity by investing in a high-quality office chair. You’ll be able to work more efficiently and without experiencing back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) to which so many office workers are susceptible. Here are 12 important things to consider when choosing an office chair.
The material used in an office chair’s construction will affect its performance. Over the years, manufacturers have begun using a variety of materials to produce their office chairs, each of which has unique characteristics.
Some of the most common materials in which office chairs are made include:
- Genuine Leather: Consisting of tanned cowhide or sheepskin, genuine leather office chairs are soft, cool, stylish, and durable.
- Faux Leather: While faux leather office chairs look and feel like genuine leather, they are usually made of other materials, including either synthetic or organic fabrics.
- Vinyl: Vinyl office chairs are soft and comfortable, and because vinyl is a synthetic fabric, they are naturally resistant to water and other liquids.
- Nylon: Typically used to create mesh backrests, nylon is another material in which office chairs are made. Nylon office chairs are cool, breathable, and lightweight.
- Plastic: The least expensive option, plastic office chairs are generally used in waiting rooms where a large number of chairs are needed.
- Wood: The oldest type of material used to make office chairs is wood. Wood office chairs are sturdy, attractive, and available in countless styles.
When choosing an office chair, consider whether it offers lumbar support. Some people assume that back pain only occurs in laborious jobs, such as construction or manufacturing, but it’s often office workers who are most susceptible to this MSD. According to a study of nearly 700 office workers, 27% of office workers experience a new instance of low back pain each year.
To lower your risk of low back pain, choose an office chair with lumbar support. Lumbar support refers to padding or cushioning around the bottom of the backrest that supports the lumbar region of your back (the area of your back between your thoracic and pelvic regions). It stabilizes your lower back, thereby reducing stress and tension on your spine and its supporting structures.
All office chairs have a weight capacity, which you should follow for both your safety and the safety of your chair. If you weigh more than the capacity for which your office chair is rated, it could break under the stress of everyday use.
You’ll find most office chairs have a 200 to 250 pound weight capacity. The good news is that some office chairs are designed specifically for heavier workers. Known as big and tall office chairs, they feature a sturdier construction to provide a higher weight capacity. Big and tall office chairs are available in 300-, 400- and 500-pound weight capacities. In addition to a higher weight capacity, some models also feature larger seats and backrests. Choose an office chair with a higher weight capacity than the weight of your body.Phyllisfurniture office chair can withstand up to 650 lb
Not all office chairs feature a traditional four-legged design. Some are designed with mounted wheels, known as casters, that allow you to roll around and rotate while sitting in them. If you have an L-shaped desk, for example, you can roll or rotate between the different areas of your desk. If you have a computer on one area of your desk and a writing station on the other area, you can quickly move between these areas without standing up if you choose an office chair with casters.
On its website, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends the use of office chairs with five casters in computer workstations to promote productivity and reduce the risk of injury. You can still use traditional four-legged chairs in conference rooms, waiting rooms and breakrooms. For computer workstations, though, choosing a five-wheeled office chair will improve your productivity while creating a safer workplace in the process.
Space is an invaluable commodity in offices, as well as most other workplaces, which is why it’s important to consider size when choosing an office chair. If you work in a small cubicle, you may not have the luxury of choosing an oversized executive office chair, in which case you’ll need to choose a smaller chair.
Before purchasing an office chair, get the measurements of the area in which you intend to use it. Using these measurements, you can choose an appropriately sized office chair. Remember, you can always fit a small office chair into a large workstation, but you can’t fit a large office chair into a small workstation. When in doubt, choose an office chair that’s at least a few inches smaller than the area in which you intend to use it.
Fixed-height office chairs generally have a seat-to-floor height of 17 to 19 inches, allowing most office workers to comfortably to use them in front of desks and workstations. But not all office workers are the same height, and if you’re too tall or short for a fixed-height office chair, it may stress your back or neck when sitting in it.
OSHA recommends choosing an office chair with an adjustable height of 15 to 22 inches, meaning you should be able to lower the seat to just 15 inches off the floor or raise the seat to 22 inches off the floor. Whether you are short, tall or average height, this will allow you to comfortably use your desk or workstation. Most office chairs do not go down to 15 inches though so you may have to settle for 17 to 21 inches. Just an FYI, this measurement is typically measured from the floor to the top of the seat cushion. And, while we are on the topic of adjustments, if would also benefit you tremendously to choose an office chair with multiple ergonomic adjustments.
The style of an office chair won’t affect its functionality or performance, but it will affect the chair’s aesthetics and, therefore, your office’s décor. You can find office chairs in countless styles, ranging from traditional all-black executive styles to colorful modern and contemporary styles.
So, what style of office chair should you choose? If you’re choosing an office chair for a large office, stick with a familiar style to create a cohesive décor. If your office currently uses traditional all-black executive office chairs, for example, choose a similar all-black executive style. If your office uses brown leather office chairs, on the other hand, choose a brown leather style. Using a consistent style with your office chairs will enhance your office’s décor by creating a cohesive interior.
Armrests allow you to rest your forearms while sitting in front of a desk or workstation. Without armrests, you won’t have anywhere to rest your forearms, resulting in increased fatigue as well as a higher risk of MSDs. For desks and workstations, armrests are a must-have feature for office chairs. In other areas of the office, including breakrooms and waiting rooms, armrests are optional.
According to OSHA, office chair armrests should have the following features:
- Soft padded material
- Long and wide enough to adequately support your forearms
- Adjustable height of 7 to 10.5 inches from the seat
- Removable (ability to raise or lower them)
There are both reclining and non-reclining office chairs. For maximum comfort, the former type is recommended because it allows you to lean forward or backward depending on your needs. In its guide to choosing an ergonomic office chair, the General Services Administration (GSA) – a government organization designed to support other federal agencies – says office chairs with a reclining backrest reduce stress on the back and thighs.
With a reclining backrest, you can stretch periodically during the workday without standing up. Some office chairs even allow you to lock the backrest into your desired reclined position. Just unlock the backrest, recline it back until you find the perfect position for maximum comfort and then relock it. Once locked, it won’t tilt forward or backward, allowing you to use your office chair in its current position for as long as you desire.