When Your Office Chair Just Doesn't Fit: Ergonomics for Everyone Else

For the vast majority of workers, the everyday office chair is just fine. With a few twirls and adjustments, most employees can make the standard equipment ergonomically sound. For the very tall and the very short among us, however, setting up an office environment is an exercise in making do.

tiny chair 

(Photo Credit: oomlout/Flickr)

"You don't want to be the special-needs person," Nicholas Detrych, a 6-foot-5 project manager from Chicago tells The Wall Street Journal. Detrych created his own standing desk by stacking boxes on his (too short) desk.

"It isn't glamorous," he admits.

Detrych isn't alone. Many tall and short workers told The Wall Street Journal that they avoided asking for special equipment, because they didn't want to be perceived as a problem child or because they didn't want to foster resentment in their co-workers. And then there's the practical aspects of the issue: in a time when office managers are under tremendous pressure to keep costs down, it's tempting to assume that any discussion will be a dead-end one, and figure something out on your own.

Good Ergonomics Saves Money

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 33 percent of all worker injury cases in 2011 were caused by musculoskeletal disorders related to their work, including repetitive stress injuries.

Sitting in a chair that doesn't fit or a desk that's the wrong height isn't just inconvenient for you -- it's liable to cost your employer money, especially if you wind having to take time off to recover from an RSI.

Doing It Yourself

If it still doesn't feel like a good idea to make a big deal out of your less-than-ergonomic work station setup, there's a lot you can do on your own to improve things, including:

1. Making adjustments where possible.

OSHA offers a guide for setting up work stations, including ways to mitigate some of the lesser-known issues like lighting and glare. None of that will make your tiny or too-large chair the right size, but it's a good idea to start out by knowing what's ideal.

2. Hacking a new way to work.

Lifehacker featured this round-up of DIY and store-bought standing desks. If you're like most of us, you won't want to stand all day, but setting up a standing desk, even for part-time use, might be cheaper and more practical than ordering a new chair or raising or lowering your existing desk. (But don't count the latter option out, either: many commercial workstations are adjustable. See for yourself, or ask facilities, before you assume yours isn't.)

3. Swapping in better-fitting equipment as it becomes available.

One workplace strategist told The Wall Street Journal that employees tend to play musical chairs when someone leaves, swapping for better equipment. If worse comes to worst, you can always keep an eye out for better options as workers leave the company or the department. But in the meantime, you'll want to make as many adjustments as you can, to have a healthier workspace today.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you trouble have finding office equipment that's really ergonomic? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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