Every boss has to cope with multi-layered tasks on a daily basis, and problems and complex situations are rarely absent. Probably many managers and bosses also struggle with one or more ailments, such as back pain, tension in the neck or shoulder area, headaches, blood circulation disorders or other common diseases in the office. It is not surprising that every boss wants an ergonomic executive chair. This should at least guarantee comfortable and healthy sitting during work. But can this be effectively expected from any so-called “executive chair”? Unfortunately, far from it! The words “ergonomic executive chair” are too often exploited by marketing with the craziest promises being made. Promises which dissolve into thin air when sitting daily on such an office chair.
To avoid this experience, in this article I provide 4 fundamental tips, which affect an ergonomic executive chair. I show how to avoid bad desk posture and how to achieve an ergonomic setup of the seating in an executive office to ensure good ergonomics and design, which, after all, is what every boss would like to have.
Ergonomic evaluation based on 4 important tips
There are several key points that are critical to an ergonomic executive chair. Below I have compiled an ergonomic evaluation that summarizes these 4 criteria as follows:
Tip 1: Ergonomics and design
An executive office should have both good ergonomics and design. Although these two qualities are often in conflict with each other, there are good ways to combine them. Good ergonomics is achieved when you are not only relaxed in your executive chair, but also when the overall workflow from your office chair is right. A design that is too fancy, on the other hand, usually offers a lot for the eye, but little for ergonomics, and in the vast majority of cases is detrimental to health.
Ergonomics means optimal adaptation between the human being and the changing working conditions. The basic rules for good ergonomics in an ergonomic executive chair at work summarize this mix:
Proper chair height:
The thighs should be horizontal or slightly raised from the knees towards the hips. The feet should always be in contact with the floor. Ensure that the gas spring in the office chair offers at least 12 cm/4.72 inches of lifting space, so that both short and tall people can easily achieve the proper chair height in an ergonomic executive chair.
Adjustment of the backrest and, if possible, also the seat tilt:
To ensure dynamic sitting, it must be possible to change the angle of the backrest. This enables dynamic sitting. Adjust the backrest counterpressure so that you are comfortably supported when the backrest is not fixed, and so that you do not fall backwards or are pushed forwards too much.
A moving backrest has many advantages because it constantly moves the spine a little, even if it is only micro-movements, but it is precisely this that can prevent rigid sitting. It should also be possible to adjust the height of the backrest independently, so that optimum support in the lower back can be achieved for every body size.
Armrests and posture of the arms:
The arms should rest flat on the desk, creating an angle of the forearms to the upper arms of about 90-100°. The armrest surface should be at the same height as the work surface of the office desk to create an extended support surface. However, there should be no conflict with the armrests and the desk surface. This can usually be avoided with height-adjustable armrests, especially if an armrest can be adjusted not only in height, but also in depth and rotation.
If an armrest is an obstacle for the work surface, it should be put down or omitted altogether. What certainly should not be the solution, that because of the armrests you do not get close enough to the office desk and so are positioned further away, thereby automatically adopting a slouching posture. Avoid such a bad desk posture in this case and work better without armrests.
An ergonomic executive chair is expected not only to enhance the work situation, but also to improve ergonomics. An ergonomic setup of an executive office is more than simply the chair with direct influence on the sitting posture. A bad desk posture should be avoided in any case.
With the proper chair height and the correct resting of the arms on the desk (90-100° angle from lower to upper arms), as described above, your desk is automatically at the correct ergonomic height and a correct desk posture is thus guaranteed.
You should always be able to adjust the height of your desk to suit your needs. Many people make the mistake of adjusting the height of the chair to the height of the desk without paying attention to the needs of the person sitting at the desk. If the desk is not height adjustable, shorter people can be helped by using a footrest to keep their feet in contact with the floor. Taller people could raise the desk with wooden blocks or s similar objects, always making sure that the desk is stable.
If you would like more information about desks, you can read my blog “Does an ergonomic standing desk really offer me advantages?”.
Screen, keyboard and mouse:
In order to have a good ergonomic evaluation at the workplace, the height of the screen should be adjusted so that the view from the center of the eye passes slightly over the upper edge of the screen. With an outstretched arm, you should touch the screen easily with your fingertips, and you should be centered exactly in front of the screen so that it is not too much to the left or too much to the right.
The keyboard should also be centered and about a hand’s width from the edge of the surface in front of you. Use a wrist rest when typing so your wrists don’t bend.
For the mouse, also use a wrist rest to avoid tendon problems. Alternatively, you can also use a vertical mouse. You can read more about wrist rests for keyboards and mice in my blog “Are ergonomic wrist rests for keyboards and mice really useful?”.
Lighting, temperature, humidity, and noise level:
Here, too, ergonomic setup of the workplace with attention to these points is fundamental. You can achieve good lighting with a combination of indirect and direct lighting, as well as ambient light. You should never be dazzled and there should be no shadows on your work surface.
The ideal room temperature is 21°C/69°F with humidity between 40-60%.
The noise level should be no more than 55 dB(A), which is roughly equivalent to 2 people conversing in a normal voice. For more on this topic, see my blog, “How can ergonomic and human factors have a positive influence on well-being in today’s office?”.
Design of an ergonomic executive chair:
My experience with designer chairs has been negative in most cases, and designer executive chairs are no exception. Too often I have seen work situations where the source of health discomfort was a direct result of the designer office chair. A thin cushion, mesh upholstery or special shapes usually comprise an elegant design. Too thin a cushion or mesh upholstery quickly compromises blood circulation, especially when sitting for hours on a relatively hard surface or when pressure points form. Many design shapes also achieve a poor ergonomic evaluation because they do not reflect the natural shape of the spine nor promote a healthy sitting posture. Often it is the armrests that have a special design, but constantly bump against the edge of the table, are not adjustable or have the wrong height.
Nevertheless, there are various manufacturers who have managed to combine good ergonomics and design in such a way that both features are satisfied and an ergonomic executive chair with good design is available for the executive office. Design is furthermore a matter of taste and difficult to measure, whereas ergonomics can be assessed and measured relatively quickly. So always pay attention to good ergonomics when it comes to design, and ensure that ergonomics is not neglected. However, I also know several people who have deliberately chosen design because for them beauty comes before health. This is a personal choice and, as we know, people are free to choose what suits them best. One of the main arguments of these people is often the statement that thick cushions in office chairs do not look elegant. I have written a special blog on this topic, entitled “Why is an ergonomic upholstered office chair so important for health?”.
Tip 2: Lumbar support for a natural S-shape of the spine
Many people, including quite a few bosses, have discomfort in the lower back or have already suffered a herniated disc. 90% of herniated discs occur between the 4th and 5th lumbar vertebrae (L4/L5). This is the lower part of the spine, also called the lumbar lordosis. Special care should be taken to provide good support here. Make sure that your ergonomic executive chair has a pronounced lumbar support. Many office chairs lack this support and is the reason why a large number of people experience problems and pain in the lumbar region.
A good lumbar support in an ergonomic executive chair should be adjustable, both in depth and in height. This permits the most comfortable setting and individual adjustment. It is important that when sitting, the spine continues to remain in its natural double S-shape, thereby avoiding incorrect stress on the intervertebral discs and preventing bad desk posture. Good ergonomics and design can certainly be found in the elegant S-shape of a spine.
For more detailed information on this important topic of lumbar support, see my blog, “Does an ergonomic office chair with lumbar support really benefit the back?”.
Tip 3: Ergonomic accessories
With an ergonomic executive chair, you like to have something special. This can be provided with ergonomic accessories.
It can start with the ergonomic armrests, which are available as 2D, 3D, 4D or even 5D. Here, adjustment is ensured in each case with different possibilities, such as the height, width, depth, angle or rotation, which ultimately leads to better ergonomics.
An absolutely essential ergonomic accessory is the lumbar support, as detailed above, which certainly is not a luxury in an executive office.
A headrest has only partly a design function and can be quite ergonomically useful, if it can be adjusted in height and depth to the angle of inclination. The head should be supported in a natural position and not fall too far back. Unfortunately, this is not guaranteed with many headrests. You should pay special attention to the fact that it effectively “supports” the head. For more explanation on headrests, see my blog “In the office, does an ergonomic chair with headrest offer added value for more efficient work and less neck pain?”.
Another popular ergonomic accessory is a coat hanger on the executive chair. These come in plastic, although if you have an ergonomic executive chair, it’s better to go with a chrome coat hanger. Make sure a coat hanger is sturdy and has the necessary width. Many hangers are not wide enough, which means that hanging a jacket without wrinkles is not always guaranteed.
Standard ergonomic accessories for me are the casters. These should have a softer rubber sheathing for hard floors, and hard plastic for soft floors like carpet. There are also universal casters, but the rolling performance on a carpet is always best with casters designed for carpet. For more on office chair casters, see my blog “Pit stop for the office chair”.
Some ergonomic executive chairs offer massage features, which are certainly interesting, but don’t add much ergonomic value.
The fabric cover also has ergonomic qualities, as it influences the general feeling of well-being and can lead to better ergonomics. In an ergonomic executive chair, a majority of people consider a genuine leather cover to be appropriate. This is quite elegant and has the great advantage of durability, good hygiene and design appeal. Although leather needs care, it is a rather indestructible material. However, since leather is not breathable, high-quality office chair manufacturers use perforated leather, i.e. leather with small holes at regular intervals, in combination with non-perforated leather for leather upholstery. This is similar to what the automotive industry does with leather covers for car seats.
Synthetic leather, on the other hand, is unsuitable for an executive chair since you will be sitting in your own sweat in warm temperatures. Imitation leather is only used for inexpensive models and should not be considered for an executive chair. An alternative to genuine leather is a microfiber cover, similar to Alcantara. Fabric covers made of a wool fabric mixed with polyamide or classic Trevira fabrics are also represented in the executive suite. All well-known manufacturers offer a wide range of options here.
Tip 4: Value for money
Almost everyone likes to get the best value for money. In the case of a super-cheap ergonomic executive chair, the advantage of such a bargain is usually only in one point: the price. You can be really happy about a low price, but then usually comes the big awakening, because the ergonomics are not right and the quality leaves much to be desired. With many of these executive chairs, the screws loosen over time, it starts to squeak and the cheap workmanship is noticeable throughout the chair. Health complaints usually follow and finally disposal costs must be paid, in order to free oneself from such an executive chair.
Cheap executive chairs, for example, have a gas spring of only 10 cm/3.94 inches stroke, which considerably limits the height adjustment. To accommodate different body heights, a minimum stroke of 12 cm/4.72 inches of the gas spring is needed to achieve an ergonomic height adjustment for the proper chair height.
The backrest in some cheap executive chairs is usually not independently adjustable to the inclination of the seat. So, the backrest is like a normal kitchen chair, fixed to the seat. This destroys dynamic sitting, even if some manufacturers promote this with the “rocking chair option”. The purpose of dynamic sitting is the movement of the spine and pelvis, which can only be achieved with a different movement of the seat and back.
The casters of inexpensive executive chairs, which are often offered as universal casters, can lead to unpleasant surprises. Inexpensive casters can begin to squeak over time or leave welts on the floor.
Inexpensive executive chairs sometimes also offer massage functions. With these, keep the warranty certificate well at hand because such elements have sensitive electronics, which can quickly break.
Cheap executive chairs can often be recognized by the warranty, which rarely goes beyond 2 years.
With cheap executive chairs, the manufacturer must make savings everywhere. For example, in many cheap executive chairs, the diameter of the foot cross supports is often smaller than normal, which can lead to a risk of tipping over. Also, there may be sharp edges on the bottom surface of such foot crosses due to cheap processing, causing injuries to feet or slashing shoes.
Inexpensive chairs most often must be assembled yourself, which does not always go smoothly and makes possible return difficult. This is especially true when the gas spring is inserted into the mechanism and the executive chair is then loaded with weight. The gas spring can now only be removed from the mechanism with a special tool or with a pipe wrench. The second option leaves clear scratch marks on the gas spring.
With inexpensive executive chairs, you will certainly not find genuine leather, but imitation leather. Imitation leather is unsuitable for an office chair because it is not breathable and promotes sweating while sitting. This can be uncomfortable, especially in warmer temperatures. Imitation leather is plastic and so you are sitting directly on a plastic cover. Cleaning products can remove the softener of the material which wears off over time even without cleaning products. This can cause small cracks to appear in the imitation leather, which can cause the imitation leather to crumble in various places. Direct sunlight on imitation leather promotes this phenomenon.
Inexpensive ergonomic executive chairs certainly exist. However, don’t expect too much at bargain prices. If you really want to get the most out of your investment at a low price, you should look for a high-quality, used ergonomic executive chair from a well-known manufacturer. There are various suppliers of refurbished, used office chairs and genuine ergonomic executive chairs.
Basically, an ergonomic executive chair is about your health while sitting. From this perspective, a serious analysis is useful. When looking for a solution for good ergonomics and design in an executive chair, you should not be too frugal. After all, you don’t change the executive chair as often as you change a piece of clothing. You acquire a working tool for years, which should give pleasure, good ergonomics, and health. Regrettably, however, often such investments are made with too much emphasis on price which is then paid back many times over due to bad desk posture and visits to the physiotherapist, chiropractor, or orthopedist. And in the end, you must look for another ergonomic executive chair.
If the topic of ergonomics in the office or home office appeals to you and you are interested in it more deeply, I can recommend my book “Wellness in the Office”. Combined with humorous drawings, I pass on 50+1 tips to make your office a little paradise.