Office chairs play an important role in the modern-day workplace. While most people are familiar with their purpose and function, there are probably some things you don’t know about them that may surprise you.
#1) Office Chairs See a Lot of Use
Office chairs typically see a lot of use in their lifetime. According to the National Post, the average office worker sits for approximately 10 hours a day. Assuming an employee works 262 days a year, his or her office chair would be used for a total of 2,620 hours. Because of this, manufacturers must carefully design their chairs to withstand constant, daily use.
The good news is that office chairs typically last for quite some time, even when they are used 10 hours a day. A report published by Baylor University says the average office chair lasts for seven to eight years, after which it should be repaired or replaced. Other sources are even more optimistic, citing a full decade as being the average chair’s life expectancy. Whether it’s seven years or 10, office chairs offer plenty of use when properly maintained.
#2) Charles Darwin is a Pioneer of the Modern-Day Office Chair
While most known for his groundbreaking contributions to science, English biologist Charles Darwin helped create the modern-day office chair.
As explained by Gizmodo, Darwin was a workaholic who spent countless hours collecting specimens of plants and animals. And like any hard-working individual, he needed to rest on occasion. Being that he lived in the 19th century though, chairs at the time were designed only with fixed legs. Darwin wanted to be able to slide around and move while sitting, so he modified a chair to include wheels on the feet.
Today, wheels – also known as casters – is a common feature found in office chairs. Like Darwin’s rudimentary design, they allow workers to move around without having to stand up. Office chair casters are typically designed with either soft or hard materials. Soft casters work best on hardwood, laminate, tile and linoleum floors, whereas hard casters work best on carpet floors.
#3) German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck Popularized the Office Chair
While Darwin is largely credited with inventing the rolling design of the modern-day office chair, it was German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck who is believed to have popularized the design.
Around the mid-19th century – a time when railroads were expanding – the workplace culture was shifting into a more office-like setting. Businesses found themselves hiring additional receptionists and administrative workers, many of whom sat for long periods of time. German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was intrigued by the office chair, viewing it as a revolutionary new tool for the workplace. He saw the practical, real-world value of the office chair, and not surprisingly, wanted to share it with others.
So, Bismarck took the liberty of ordering hundreds of custom-built office chairs for his Parliament. This introduced members of the German Parliament, as well as the public, to the office chair; thus, popularizing the now-common office furnishing. If it weren’t for Bismarck and his desire to furnish the Parliament, perhaps the office chair wouldn’t have gained notoriety at the time.
Bismarck is regarded by many historians as being a political genius. In addition to popularizing the office chair, he later went on to establish the world’s first welfare state.
#4) The Right Office Chair Can Protect Against Injury
Office chairs provide more than just comfort. They protect workers from physical injury.
Sitting for long periods of time can take a toll on the body, resulting in muscle pain, joint stiffness, aches, sprains and more. One such injury that’s commonly associated with sitting is coccydynia. This isn’t a specific injury or illness, however. Rather, coccydynia is a catch-all term used to describe any injury or condition involving pain in the tailbone (coccyx) area.
The U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) explains that coccydynia is usually characterized by stress of the tailbone and/or its supporting ligaments and muscles. So, how exactly does the right office chair protect against this type of injury? Well, sitting in a chair with a hard, unsupportive bottom will stress your tailbone. Over time, this constant stress can strain your coccyx and eventually lead to coccydynia. A high-quality office chair should feature a soft, supportive seat cushion to minimize stress on your tailbone.
Furthermore, the right office chair can protect against back injuries like lumbar strains. As you may know, the lumbar spine is an area of the lower back where the spinal column begins to curve inward. Here, vertebrae are supported by ligaments, tendons, and muscles. When these supportive structures are stressed beyond their limit, it creates a painful condition known as a lumbar strain.
Thankfully, many office chairs – except for entry-grade task chairs – are designed with extra support for the lumbar back. The additional material creates a supportive area for the worker’s lower back; thereby, reducing the risk of lumbar strains and similar injuries of the lower back.
#5) Office Chairs are Designed with a Focus on Ergonomics
Office chairs are now designed with a focus on ergonomics, meaning they are optimized specifically for human use.
Ergonomics became a hot topic in the 1970s, during which employers acknowledged the importance of designing workplaces to meet the needs of the human worker. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) were widely rampant in the 1970s workplace. In response, employers began to design their workplace to minimize stress on workers and create a safer environment.
Among other things, this led to a redesign of the office chair. Ergonomic office chairs are designed with strict specifications to ensure the utmost comfort and support for the worker. They typically contain adjustable armrests, an adjustable seat, lower back support, and a soft seat cushion.
You’ll now find that many ergonomically designed office chairs boast one or more of the following testing certifications:
- EN 1335:2012
- EN 1728:2012
- DIN EN 1335
- AS/NZS 4438
#6) Office Chairs Affect Worker Productivity
In addition to protecting against injury, the right office chairs can also improve workers’ productivity. This, of course, is something from which all employers and managers can benefit.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers who clock eight hours a day are typically only productive for two hours and 53 minutes. When they aren’t working, they may browse the Internet, update their Facebook status, gossip, play on their smartphones or simply “zone out.”
You can encourage higher productivity in your workplace, however, by investing in high-quality office chairs. According to a study cited by the University of Southern California (USC), employees are 17.5% more productive when working in an ergonomic setting. A separate study cited by USC researchers suggests that workers are 17.7% more productive when given a highly adjustable office chair.
#7) The Rise of Mesh-Back Office Chairs
When shopping for new office chairs, you’ll probably notice that many are designed with a mesh-fabric back. Rather than featuring a solid material like leather or cotton-stuffed polyester, they have an open fabric through which air flows. The actual seat cushion is typically still solid. However, the back contains an open mesh material.
Mesh-back office chairs originated in the early 1990s, during which Herman Miller released its Aeron chair. As you may recall, this era was defined by the dot-com bubble. Countless tech startups were rising to fame by launching successful web-based businesses. With this new-age revolution came the need for a comfortable, ergonomic office chair – a need that Herman Miller fulfilled with its Aeron chair.
Named after the Celtic god, Aeron, the Aeron chair was once ranked as America’s best-selling chair. It’s even featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s (MMA) collection.
One of the defining characteristics of the Aeron chair is a mesh back, allowing air to circulate more freely. When workers sat in traditional office chairs for long periods of time, they would get hot and sweat. This was especially true for Silicon Valley workers in California. The Aeron chair, as well as other mesh-back chairs, solved this problem with its revolutionary new design.
Furthermore, the mesh material is more flexible and elastic than traditional material used to make office chairs. It can stretch and flex without breaking, which is another reason for its popularity.
#8) The 19th Centrygo Centripetal Spring Armchair
Long before Herman Miller released the Aeron chair, there was the Centripetal Spring Armchair. According to the Vitra Design Museum, this 19th-century chair was one of the world’s first modern office chairs.
The Centripetal Spring Armchair was invented by Thomas E. Warren in the mid-1800s. After creating the basic design, Warren hired the New York-based American Chair Company to manufacture it. The Centripetal Spring Armchair featured a cast-iron structure with varnished steel, wood, and soft velvet upholstery. In terms of size, it was similar to some of the office chairs sold today, measuring 107 inches tall, 61 inches wide and 71 centimeters deep.
Slate Magazine explains that the Centrygo Centripetal Spring Armchair had all the features of modern-day office chairs, including an adjustable base, tilt movement, revolving seat, armrests, and caster wheels. The only feature it lacked was lumbar support.
Perhaps the most interesting historical fact about the Centrygo Centripetal Spring Armchair is that it initially failed to gain traction outside of the United States because it was too comfortable. During the Victorian era, the United Kingdom valued unsupported seats as a means of demonstrating willpower. With its exceptional support and high level of comfort, the Centrygo Centripetal Spring Armchair was viewed as being immoral; thus, it was rarely used outside of the United States.
#9) High-Quality Office Chairs are a Smart Investment
Some business owners are reluctant to buy new office chairs, viewing it as an unnecessary expense that will hurt their finances. This couldn’t be further from the truth, however.
While buying new office chairs requires money, it’s a smart investment that pays off in the long run. As previously mentioned, high-quality office chairs can protect workers from injury and promote higher levels of productivity. Because of this, purchasing new office chairs is typically a smart financial investment that allows business owners and office managers to save money.
Like desks, file cabinets and other office furniture, office chairs are also typically a tax-deductible expense. Assuming you use them strictly for business purposes, you can usually write them off as an expense on your taxes. Whether you buy one new office chair or 20, you can write them off on your taxes. Just remember to save your receipts for accounting purposes.
#10) Armrests Were Once a Controversial Feature in Office Chairs
Most office chairs have armrests on which workers can rest their forearms. However, this was once considered a controversial feature.
On its website, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) explains that office chairs in the past typically didn’t feature armrests because it prevented workers from getting close to their desks. If a worker was sitting in a chair with armrests, the armrests may prevent him or her from sliding up to the desk. Thanks to advancements in office chair designs, though, this is no longer a problem.
Office chairs today are usually designed with armrests that extend 10 inches or less from the back of the seat. This relatively short armrest allows workers to rest their arms while also moving their chairs close to the desk.
There’s a good reason for using an office chair with armrests: it takes some of the load off the worker’s shoulders and neck. Without armrests, there’s nothing to support the worker’s arms. So, the worker’s arms will essentially pull down his or her shoulders; thus, increasing the risk of muscle aches and pains. Armrests are a simple and effective solution to this problem, offering support for the worker’s arms.
After reading this, you should have a better understanding of office chairs and why they are such an integral part of the modern-day workplace. From single-person startups to Fortune 500 companies, businesses big and small use office chairs in their daily operations.
President at Office Chairs Unlimited – I have been in the furniture industry for over 20 years, and I’m an expert (just ask me) on all things furniture. I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.