How Death by Cubicle Works

Workplace Comfort: You're Doing It Wrong

Waking up with back pain? It could be work-related.
Waking up with back pain? It could be work-related.
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You're crouched over your computer, hoping that the people who walk behind your cubicle all day won't notice that you're indulging in a brief break of online celebrity gossip. In doing so, the second aspect of environmental comfort, functional comfort, is compromised. Functional comfort is the measure of ergonomic support you have to do your job, from the lighting above to the chair below.

Cubicles and the furniture within them often come as "one size fits all," when in fact they need to support people of all shapes and sizes. Sitting improperly in a cubicle raises the risk of musculoskeletal conditions that ravage the body, including pain in the back, neck, shoulders, wrists and legs. Take stock of your workspace and see how many of these conditions are met:

  • Your computer screen is 18 to 24 inches (46 to 61 cm) from your eyes, with the top of the screen at eye level.
  • The keyboard is directly in front of you, allowing your arms to maintain a 90-degree angle. Wrists should be straight out and supported when typing.
  • The top of the desk is 2 inches (5 cm) above your elbows.
  • The chair provides lower-back support and is adjustable. It should be set at a height so that feet are flat on the floor and knees are at a 90-degree angle; when the knees are too high, the thighs don't support enough weight, leading to stress on the lower back. When knees are too low, it affects circulation to the lower legs.

[source: Kimball]

Even if you have perfect desk posture, you need to take frequent breaks to rest your eyes and move your body; sitting in one position too long causes fatigue, making it more difficult to sit correctly as the day wears on. But today's workers simply don't take enough breaks, and cubicles may not afford the desired privacy for desk yoga or basic stretching. The only exercise a worker might get may be crawling through the maze of cubicles for the occasional restroom break. Not only does this sedentary work style increase the likelihood of back, neck, shoulder and arm pain, it also contributes to our culture of obesity, particularly when lunch is fast food takeout or a junk food feast cobbled together from vending machines.

Now wait, you may be thinking -- germs and poor ergonomics can affect anyone with a desk, not necessarily just cubicle dwellers. Turn the page to find out how the cubicle itself can exacerbate the damage done by a germy desk and an uncomfortable chair.