Tax season is upon us, and whether you’re a tax professional or just working on your own personal finances, chances are good that you’ll be spending some extra time working at a computer or desk over the next few weeks.
According to a study from BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, the prevalence rates of shoulder, elbow, wrist/hand, upper and low back pain were 50.5 %, 20.3 %, 26.3 %, 44.8 %, and 56.1 %, respectively, in people who spend most of their day working at a desk.
Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce the aches and pains that often accompany professions which require extended periods of desk and computer work:
- Make your workstation fit you– I’ve done dozens of ergonomic evaluations of patient’s desks, and I’ve never had a problem finding a few things to improve. In general, you shouldn’t have to tell yourself to ‘sit up straight’ throughout the day. Instead, your chair, desk, and monitor should automatically position you in optimal posture.
- Take a break– The Annals of Internal Medicine recently released a study which associated extended periods of sitting every day with increased health problems. To offset some of the ill-effects of sitting, get up and move around as often as you’re able, ideally every 45-60 minutes.
- Take a stand– I’ve had a few patients that work at desks all day add a standing desk station to their office. Platforms that can be placed on an existing desk can cost as little as $70-100. Ideally, you could alternate between standing and sitting throughout the day, switching every hour or two.
A service that many physical therapists offer is to visit a patient’s workplace and do an assessment of how well their desk and workstation fit their individual body. Having done my share of these, I can tell you that a workstation that fits a 5’5” woman is not always ideal for a 6’2” man, and vice versa.
A couple year ago, I was invited to evaluate the workstations of employees at a local accounting firm. I recently checked back in with him to see what the results have been on his end. Dennis Klepadlo is a Certified Public Accountant and partner at KWN Accounting Services in Petoskey.
- What kind of ergonomic changes has your business made available to employees to maximize their comfort at work? We reached out to Jeff Samyn with Northern MI Sports Medicine for an onsite ergonomic evaluation for our entire office. He went around to every employee and examined how well their workstation fit their body and work habits. That evaluation resulted in us implementing a significant number of workstation improvements to fit individual needs. We purchased new adjustable chairs with arm rests, height adjustable stands for monitors, and wrist rests for keyboards. In addition, we have been phasing in electrically operated stand-up workstations. Over half of our private offices now have this feature. Each stand-up station is also accompanied by an anti-fatigue floor mat.
- How have these changes helped you personally during your busy season? The improvements really help make work more comfortable both during our normal season as well as tax season, which is crunch time in our world. It is great having the flexibility to change positions throughout the day, especially when those days get quite long from December through May.
- What kind of feedback have your received from your staff? Our staff has been very appreciative of these initiatives and feel we are proactively supporting a healthy work environment. They are more aware of potential ergonomic issues and look for ways to improve their spaces. Jeff took the time to explain why he was suggesting the different changes based on each person’s body type and aches and pains, so people are empowered to use those principles to fine tune their workstations to best fit them.
- What advice do you have for individuals or businesses with employees who spend most of their day working at a computer or desk to keep themselves comfortable? The most valuable asset a business has is its people. As a company, we strive to provide the best tools available to each person so they can be successful. By investing in these workstation improvements, we are making sure each employee is adequately supported, equipped and comfortable. The initial investments, which included the ergonomic assessment, workstation changes, chairs, and adjustable monitor stands were nominal and were implemented right away. The larger investments, such as the stand-up configurations, were phased in over a couple of years. We feel this is another way to help enhance our company culture and support our staff. I would encourage other organizations to take advantage of this service because it has been a great experience for us.
While KWN decided to invest some capital in re-vamping their workstations, some great changes can often be made for little or no cost. The chair I typically recommend for most people can be purchased locally for $129. Other common suggested items such as monitor stands, a pad to place in front of a keyboard, or a shoulder rest for a phone handset usually cost less than $10.
Many of us have heard the expression that you shouldn’t buy a cheap mattress or shoes because you spend a third of your day in them, and I believe the same can be said our work areas. Small changes can make a big difference over time, so I would encourage you to take the first step towards optimizing your work environment to fit your body.