The office is the primary workplace for more than 3 million Americans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While working in an office offers certain advantages – a comfortable climate, less physical labor, increased satisfaction, fewer distractions, etc. – it also has some disadvantages, such as the potential for office syndrome. It’s important for office workers and employers alike to familiarize themselves with this condition so that they can foster a healthy workplace.
What Is Office Syndrome?
Office syndrome is a collective term that refers to physical injuries and health problems attributed to working in an office. The average office worker sits for roughly 10 hours a day, making them susceptible to injuries affecting the muscles, tendons, nerves, spine and more. A worker who doesn’t take regular breaks to stretch, for instance, may experience lower back pain at the end of his or her shift – a tell-tale sign of office syndrome.
According to Mission Health Promotion Center, up to 70% of all office workers suffer from office syndrome to some degree. Keep in mind, however, that office syndrome isn’t a single disease or medical condition but, rather, it’s a collection of them.
#1) The 20-20-20 Rule
Office workers should follow the 20-20-20 rule to protect against eyestrain, headaches and related conditions when using a computer for long periods of time. Every 20 minutes, workers should take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away.
The good news is that rates of computer-related eyestrain have decreased since the advent of liquid-crystal display (LCD) and light-emitting diode (LED) monitors. In the past, office workers were forced to use cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, which often created flickering images that promoted eyestrain. Even with the newer LCD and LED monitors, though, eyestrain is still a common medical condition from which millions of officer workers suffer. By following the 20-20-20 rule, office workers can rest and protect their eyes from strain.
#2) Document Holder
Looking back and forth between a computer monitor and a document on a desk can strain an office worker’s neck. If a worker needs to type a paper document into a computer, it can cause severe neck pain if proper measures aren’t taken. Thankfully, a document holder offers a simple and effective solution. The 3M Mount Document Clip, for example, connects directly to the side of a computer monitor, allowing workers to see both the monitor and the document without bending their neck. The clip supports up to 30 pages and is compatible with most monitors, including CRTs, LCDs and LEDs.
#3) Anti-Glare Filter
In addition to a document holder, office workers should also consider installing an anti-glare filter on their computer monitor. Consisting of a thin sheet of plastic with an anti-glare coating, it’s designed to reduce light glare and protect against eyestrain. Anti-glare filters live up to their namesake by filtering glare from computer monitors. The filter is attached directly over the monitor’s display, at which point it restricts the amount of light that passes through.
Anti-glare filters offer another benefit: privacy protection. Once installed, they reduce visibility from the side, meaning other people can’t see what’s on the screen unless they are directly in front of the monitor. For office workers in the healthcare, accounting, insurance or other sensitive industries, this alone is reason enough to use one.
#4) Wrist Stretches
Eyestrain isn’t the only problem associated with working in front of a computer for long hours. Perhaps an even more common health problem is carpal tunnel syndrome. Statistics show that 5% of all U.S. adults suffer from this condition. For office workers, the rate is even higher. Carpal tunnel syndrome is characterized by compression of the median nerve in the wrist, resulting in symptoms such as wrist pain, numbness, tingling and limited range of motion. Although there are surgical options available to treat carpal tunnel syndrome, office workers should protect themselves from this common medical condition by performing wrist stretches.
Here are some wrist stretches to protect against carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) of the wrists:
- Lift hands into the air and gently roll in opposite directions for two or three minutes
- Place hands in front of body, interlock fingers together and push out – like you are popping your knuckles
- Place hands by side and bend wrists while pulling up on fingers, holding for 20 to 30 seconds and then repeating
- Lift hands into the air, ball fingers into a fist and squeeze, repeating this process five times
- Perform finger stretches by gently pulling back on each finger
#5) Sit Right
With the average office worker sitting for 10 hours a day, it’s important that workers sit in a proper position to minimize stress, strain, and fatigue. Sitting with legs crossed, for example, causes one leg to apply weight to the other, resulting in uneven distribution of the worker’s body weight across his or her spine. And sitting slouched forward or hunched back causes similar spine problems.
To protect against spine problems, office workers should sit in the center of their office chair with both feet planted firmly on the floor, maintaining natural alignment of their spine. Whether a worker sits for one hour or 10, this position will minimize pressure on the spine and promote a healthy musculoskeletal system.
#6) Ergonomic Chair
Even if an office worker sits correctly, though, he or she may still experience back pain or other problems unless they have an ergonomically designed chair. Many offices feature old, outdated chairs that lack the proper specifications needed for healthy use. If a chair doesn’t feature lumbar support, sitting will strain the worker’s lower back. Without lumbar support, there’s nothing to “hold” the worker’s lower back, thus stressing the muscles and tendons. And considering that back pain is the leading cause of worker disability, this is something that office workers probably want to avoid.
Ergonomic office chairs are designed specifically to minimize stress and strain on the body, including the spine. Although there are dozens of types of ergonomic office chairs, most feature lumbar support, an adjustable height, a swivel mechanism, adjustable armrests and a firm but comfortable seat cushion. In comparison, many other office chairs lack these features, increasing stress and strain on workers’ bodies.
While buying a new chair for each worker can be expensive, it’s a smart investment for employers and office managers. It promotes a healthier working environment while reducing the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the process.
#7) Take the Stairs
When given the option of climbing stairs or taking the elevator to their workplace, office workers should consider the former. Climbing stairs is an excellent form of aerobic exercise that burns calories and fat. Research has even shown that people who climb stains on a regular basis have improved lung capacity, lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and healthier weights than their counterparts.
And contrary to what some workers may believe, taking the elevator isn’t always faster than climbing stairs. A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that workers who climbed stairs reached their workplace more quickly, on average than those who took the elevator. When a worker uses the elevator, he or she must wait for it to arrive and wait for people to get on or get off at other floors.
#8) Create an Ergonomic Workstation
Creating an ergonomic workstation can make a world of difference in an office worker’s physical health. Computer monitors, for example, should be positioned so that the top is about the same level as the worker’s eyes. If it’s higher or lower, the worker will experience eyestrain when viewing the monitor. Computer workstations should also feature a desk with a slide-out tray for the keyboard and mouse. This allows workers to type and move the mouse more naturally.
Furthermore, an ergonomic workstation requires proper lighting. This doesn’t necessarily mean that bright light is better, though. When a workstation is overly illuminated, it may create a blinding glare that hurts workers’ eyes. Ideally, there should be enough light so that workers can easily see what they are doing without the presence of blinding glare.
#9) Open Layout
There’s some belief that an open layout can reduce the risk of office syndrome. Offices with an open layout feature large, open spaces with few or no enclosed areas. The concept has been around since the 1950s, during which it was used by companies in Germany to promote higher productivity levels. By breaking down otherwise restrictive walls, an open layout encourages workers to communicate and collaborate, which often has a positive impact on productivity levels.
An open office may also encourage workers to move around. Without walls, or with few walls, workers are more likely to walk around in the office rather than staying cooped up inside their respective workstation.
Not all companies will benefit from an open layout in their office, however. Although it’s been shown to increase productivity and promote a healthier working environment, an open layout increases background noise. The lack of walls means noise is transmitted more freely throughout the office, which may distract some workers from performing their tasks. Before implementing an open layout in your office, consider the advantages and disadvantages and whether it’s right for your company.
#10) Eat Right
Nutrition will directly affect a worker’s health as well as his or her susceptibility to office syndrome. We live in a fast-paced society that’s demanding for office workers. Many workers have deadlines they must meet, forcing them to work hard and fast while taking short lunch breaks. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for office workers to pick up fast food or a snack from the vending machine. Convenience foods such as this can satisfy hunger cravings, but it doesn’t offer any real nutritional value.
Office workers should consider preparing and bringing their own meals from home. A homemade meal consisting of lean meat with fresh fruits and vegetables is a smarter, healthier choice than fast food. And, in many cases, it’s also cheaper than eating out all five days of the workweek.
#11) Exercise Outside the Office
Exercise and health go hand in hand. Unfortunately, many office workers, especially those who work 50 or more hours a week, don’t get enough exercise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest report states that only half of all adults meet its Physical Activity Guidelines.
Working in an office is, surprisingly, physically exhaustive. When a worker finally gets home after a long day in the office, he or she may lack the energy to exercise. This type of sedentary lifestyle can take a toll on workers’ health, contributing to diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease, as well as MSDs like back pain and muscle sprains.
If this sounds familiar, check to see if there’s a gym available in your office building. Many commercial office buildings have gyms that workers can access for free. If your building doesn’t have one, there’s probably a gym located nearby, which you can visit during your breaks.
#12) Get Sleep
Finally, office workers should reevaluate their sleeping habits to ensure that they are getting at least seven or eight hours of high-quality sleep each night. Statistics show that more than one-third of Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. But sleep is essential for a healthy musculoskeletal system. Office workers who don’t get enough sleep, or enough high-quality sleep, are more likely to develop MSDs and other bodily injuries.
The key to a good night’s rest is to follow a schedule in which you go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Whether it’s a workday or the weekend, you should maintain a consistent sleep schedule. As your body becomes accustomed to this routine, you’ll find that it’s easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Don’t let office syndrome hurt your health. Follow the 12 tips listed here to promote a healthy working environment and lower your risk of disease and injury.