Why are chairs so badly designed

Office chair: The most important features: How to find the perfect desk chair

If you sit badly and are very tense, you can do less. A suitable office chair is therefore a good investment. These are the characteristics that count.

Would you run a marathon in poorly fitting shoes? Of course not - you are not crazy.

Sitting in a crappy, wobbly desk chair for eight hours a day is a reality for many - and that's no less crazy. The effects of bad stools may not be as directly felt as they are with bad shoes. But they are serious in the long term: Back pain is one of the most common reasons why people become unable to work. And a good office chair can at least reduce the burden of desk work.

But how do you find the one office chair that suits you perfectly?

“A good office chair has to be able to do three things,” says Andreas Stephan, head of the “Office” department of the statutory accident insurance (VGB) in Ludwigsburg. "Firstly, it must support the natural posture in all sitting positions, secondly, it must be individually adaptable, and thirdly, it must promote movement."

But how do you know whether an office chair meets these requirements?

You should pay attention to these characteristics

backrest

  • Height: The backrest should be one thing above all else: adjustable in height. The upper edge of the backrest should extend to the shoulder blades. "It is important that the backrest supports the natural shape of the spine after the individual adjustment in all sitting postures," explains Stephan. The backrest should be so high that the upper edge is at least 45 centimeters above the seat.
  • Lumbar support: Doctors call lordosis the lower area of ​​the spine that is bent forward. The backrest should be curved to support this natural curve of the spine. The lumbar support should also be individually adjustable in terms of strength and height.
  • Width: When buying a new office chair, you should have a tape measure with you because, according to Andreas Stephan, the backrest should be 40 centimeters wide.

Seat

  • Seat height: The seat height of the chair should be adjustable to almost any body size. "The feet should be firmly on the floor when sitting, the thighs and lower legs should form an angle of 90 degrees or more", says Andreas Stephan. The expert recommends that the seat height be adjustable between 40 and 53 centimeters.
  • Seat depth: The seat depth is the distance between the lower backrest and the front edge of the seat surface. It should also be adjustable for different leg lengths so that the thighs have enough support. The seat depth should be between 37 and 47 centimeters. As a rule of thumb, make sure that there is a four-finger-wide space between the front edge of the seat and the lower leg.
  • Seat joint: The seat of a good office chair can be tilted in all directions. This activates the seated person's muscles and stabilizes their posture. Experts speak of "dynamic sitting", where you change your posture more often. This is good, because if you stay in the same posture for a long time, you risk tension and pain.
  • Rotary seat: The seat can be rotated horizontally. This also means that you automatically move more and change position.

armrest

  • Adjustable armrest: The armrest is important to relieve the shoulder and neck muscles. Just like the seat and backrest, it should also be individually adjustable - both in height and width, so that it suits both delicate and corpulent employees. When buying, make sure that the armrests are adjustable in height from 18 to 29 centimeters. They should be at least two inches wide and around eight inches long.
  • 90-degree angle: The angle between the upper arm and forearm should be 90 degrees or more. The armrest should be level with the table.

headrest

A headrest or neckrest, which should also be adjustable in height, is not essential, but makes sense. The extra support relieves the cervical spine in particular. But the back also benefits from a headrest.

Depth adjustment: The depth of the headrest should be adjusted in the exact position in which the head does not fall back and not forward. The setting is very simple, because everyone notices the correct position for themselves: Nothing is more uncomfortable than an incorrect head posture.

mechanics

Many modern office chairs are movable so that they adapt to the movements of the person sitting.

  • Rocking mechanism: The backrest and seat are firmly connected to each other, and both can tilt backwards synchronously.
  • Permanent mechanics: The seat is firm and the backrest can rock backwards. The benefit: the upper body is supported in every sitting position. This means that you don't tire as quickly when sitting and sit less statically. The suspension of the backrest should be adjusted so that it follows the movements of the user without the feeling of being pushed off the chair.
  • Synchronous mechanism: Both the seat and the backrest can be tilted, but the two are not firmly connected to each other. This means: If the seat rocks backwards, the backrest also tilts - but less so, so that the angle between the upper body and thigh increases. The employee stretches, moves the joints, his body is better supplied with blood.

Chair casters

The castors for a new office chair should be selected depending on the hardness of the floor: With soft carpeting, the chair castors should be hard, with hard floors as soft as possible.

upholstery

The upholstery should not be too soft and the fabric should be breathable, hard-wearing and non-slip.

You can do without that

  • Saddle seats, seat balls and rocking stools: Some people swear by alternatives to the office chair, such as Petzi balls, saddle seats (which are similar to a bicycle saddle) or pendulum stools that you can rock back and forth on. But workplace expert Andreas Stephan advises against these alternatives: “As a rule, these seats will not meet the requirements of an office work chair,” he says. Because most people will probably not be able to sit relaxed for eight hours on a chair without a backrest - and after a while they will fall into an unhealthy posture.
  • A motorized chair: In the meantime, there are also motor-driven chairs in which, for example, the seat tilts automatically. This is to avoid a one-sided attitude. Andreas Stephan is skeptical: "I dare to doubt whether this will counteract the problem of lack of exercise." He sees it in a similar way to the effectiveness of massages: They do not fight the causes of muscle tension, but only alleviate the symptoms for a short time.

You should keep this in mind when considering your height

Most desk chairs can be adjusted to fit most people of all sizes. "However, five percent of people are shorter than 1.51 meters and five percent taller than 1.91 meters," says Andreas Stephan. If employees are particularly large or small, when buying them, make sure that the chairs can also be adapted to them. Many manufacturers offer custom-made products.

You should pay attention to these seals of approval

  • GS mark:The most important seal of approval that you should look out for when buying a desk chair is the GS mark. If the chair has this seal, it meets the minimum requirements for safety and health.
  • Quality Office: With this seal of approval, the chair not only meets the minimum legal requirements, but also other requirements for ergonomics and product quality.
  • TÜV ergonomics tested: With this symbol, the TÜV Rheinland test program ensures that the desk chair meets the minimum legal requirements and other ergonomic requirements - especially with regard to dynamic sitting.
  • AGR seal of approval: In addition to the legal minimum requirements, a chair with this seal also fulfills other requirements for a back-friendly construction and design.

Where to buy the perfect office chair

The specialist shop is always a good point of contact, says Andreas Stephan. “Before buying, you should get a feel for the chair, touch it and try it out.” However, this is now also possible when buying on the Internet. “There is the option of having two or three copies sent to you, testing them in the office and sending them back,” explains the expert.

One advantage of going into business is advice. The specialist advisor can point out all the possibilities that the chair offers. Tip: Take two or three of your employees with you to represent different body weight classes. "But it is also important that the boss can be shown everything in order to be able to explain the settings to his employees in the office," advises Stephan.

Another possibility to find out about office chairs independently is offered by statutory accident insurance such as the VGB. There you can get advice on the subject of office chairs over the phone or personally from an expert who comes to your company and supports you, for example, with testing the sample office chairs. Advice from the statutory accident insurance is free of charge.

What a good office chair costs

"You can buy chairs from 50 to 1000 euros, so it is difficult to name a fixed size," says Andreas Stephan. "300 euros should be a minimum, because you have to ask yourself whether cheap chairs are good in the long term." From 800 euros you can expect to pay not only for functionality and quality, but also for the brand name or the design.

In principle, the following applies: The cheapest chair is not necessarily the most economical if it breaks quickly or leads to the user's work performance being reduced because he is sitting completely tense.

There are grants for ergonomic office furniture

  • Health insurance: If the health insurance company is to cover the costs of the office chair, the employee must already be receiving medical treatment for back problems or other problems that can be traced back to the unhealthy sitting posture. Only with a prescription from a doctor for an ergonomic office chair for therapy and the consent of a health insurance officer is there a possibility of a subsidy.
  • German pension insurance: You can also apply for a subsidy for an “orthopedic office chair” with the German Pension Insurance. The maximum amount of the grant is 435 euros.

When to replace an office chair

According to Andreas Stephan, office chairs should be replaced after eight to ten years.

100 ideas that will advance your company

Do you want motivated employees, more productivity or satisfied customers? Our 100 ideas will bring you closer to this goal. Download it for free now!

To person

Andreas Stephan is the head of the “Office” department of the statutory accident insurance (VGB) in Ludwigsburg and his main job is how to design workplaces in a health-promoting manner.