Why is this important
There is a long established a link between the highest reported discomfort and the most sedentary positions: those who work in office jobs usually reported more discomfort when compared to other jobs that are more physically active. One way to limit discomfort is to limit the amount of prolonged sedentary activity by incorporating some movement into the day. Past research has indicated that movement is necessary to reduce discomfort, however there always seems to be conflicting information surrounding this.
There seems to be differing advice in how to limit the ergonomic risk in the office setting:
- There seems to be many different options when it comes to the optimal break schedule that would best limit ergonomic risk, and
- The advice for the best type of activities that should be incorporated within these ‘breaks’ has never really been clear, in my opinion.
Research has always indicated a strong link between prolonged sitting and user discomfort, particularly in data entry and call centre operator positions. Interestingly, even the most ergonomic posture held for significant portions of time would be considered to increase the ergonomic risk.
This is one of the reasons why a sit-stand workstation is so tempting for many; its purpose is to promote a dynamic movement by allowing the worker to switch between sitting and standing throughout the day wherever they see fit. Musculoskeletal complaints in sit-stand workstations tend to be lower when compared to a normal workstation. The big concern with these workstations is that there has always been low compliance: in some offices, sit-stand workstations collect dust. From my past experience I have found that sit-stand workstations have been the most successful for those who sought out the workstation from superiors in the first place. For those who were ambivalent about sit-stand workstations, I have found that they are always very unlikely (past the first couple of months) to change between sitting and standing.
How to Implement
The authors of this research have documented an extremely useful strategy that any office can easily incorporate:
- Implement quick and frequent breaks (5min/hour).
- It is important to note that a routine will produce the best outcomes. There are two ways to incorporate routine:
- Sit-stand workstations
- Break reminder software
- Advise against stretching programs as there is limited results to their success at limiting discomfort:
- This can be because staff must know when/how to incorporate stretching programs and this can take a lot of training and refreshers.
- Instead, to have the best outcomes, incorporate postural changes and not stretching to reduce discomfort.
- For postural changes, the biggest value to reduce discomfort is to make a large body movements (within break routine) such as changing the position of the entire body. If the person is in a seated workstation, an appropriate postural change would be to stand or a quick walk. Vice Versa, if the person is in a standing or sit-stand workstation, then an appropriate postural change would be to sit or quick walk.
What about the impact of productivity with this strategy?
Interestingly, even with taking more frequent breaks throughout the day, the researchers of this study found that productivity improved by 10%.
Davis, K. & Kotowski, S. (2014). Postural Variability: An Effective Way to Reduce Musculoskeletal Discomfort in Office Work. Human Factors. 56(7), 1249-1261