Have you ever sat down and immediately knew the the chair was uncomfortable for you? Or was it more of a gradual process, where at first you thought that the chair was very comfortable but overtime it become more and more uncomfortable to sit in?
I get a lot of questions about chairs. Really I do. In fact, it’s probably the most frequently asked question that I get. And, it’s no surprise why. Firstly, chairs are expensive and choosing the wrong chair can be very costly to you. Secondly, trying to be productive while sitting in an uncomfortable chair can really take a toll on your body.
The problem with some high quality chairs, is that their designs can be so similar that it can be quite difficult to feel any differences (especially important in the foam on the seat pan) between chairs. The differences in comfort may only be apparent after a person tries the chair for longer periods of time. But, rarely do users actually get enough time to really try out each chair before purchasing. This may lead to buyer’s remorse and many questions about the value of ergonomically designed chairs.
When I managed the ergonomics program of a large organization, I used an innovative approach when staff wanted to try out chairs. Local chair manufacturers loaned my organization popular chairs to be housed in an ‘Ergonomic Showroom’. Any staff member who needed to get a new chair would simply sign-out a chair for 2 weeks. If after 2 weeks, they were satisfied, then the chair was probably perfect for them.
This strategy worked very well and staff were engaged and bought into the process. This strategy is very atypical. In a typical workplace staff generally only have a few minutes to try different types of chairs before deciding.
An interesting fact is… that the amount that the user moves or fidgets in their chair is directly related to how uncomfortable they are in it. Many times this movement can be considered to subconscious, where the user does not even realize that they are doing it.
The one easy hack when selecting a chair is... that when trying out chairs, ensure that each person has at least 18 minutes of sitting with each option. This is the minimum required duration for the user to be able to distinguish between similar chairs. Of course, if a user knows immediately if a chair is uncomfortable, then the chair will not need to tried for longer. This suggestion is for when the user is faced with several high quality with similar options. You may be surprised to learn that the user’s opinion of each chair changes by the end of the trial period. An additional productivity hack is to investigate if the user can bring their laptop to where the trial chairs are located, or have the trial chairs brought to their workstation.
Cascioli, V., Liu, Z., Heusch, A. & McCarthy, P. (2016). A methodology using in-chair movements as an objective measure of discomfort for the purpose of statistically distinguishing between similar seat surfaces.Applied Ergonomics. 54:100-109