Meet Emma, a life-sized representation of an office worker of the near future. Her appalling features are no accident – she was designed by William Higham, a futurist specialising in behavioural insights based in the U.K.

The sculpture was commissioned by Fellowes, an office furniture company, to raise awareness on the importance of proper ergonomics in the office – a place where the average person will spend over 90 000 hours in their lifetime.

It comes as no surprise that most offices and work environments are not exactly the healthiest places to spend such a substantial portion of our lives. Restricted airflow and bodily movement, uncomfortable furniture, poor lighting and the constant use of screens are amongst the main driving factors behind this epidemic of office ailments – something that is reckoned to cost the U.K. economy alone around £100 million a year due to work or office-related sick days.

Some of Emma’s many health problems include a hunched back, pale skin, dry eyes and bloated feet and veins due to cholesterol and restricted blood from long hours of sitting in a poor posture, and these are just the ones that are visible at a quick glance.

Emma Sculpture

Deeper and more serious conditions that can develop include:

  • An increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes

Sedentary behaviour is common in many offices (such as sitting for hours on end) and can have a negative impact on the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar – often a direct path to type 2 diabetes. Studies have also shown an increased risk for heart failure in men who spend more hours sitting everyday compared to those who do not.

  • Development of Musculoskeletal Disorders

Repetitive motions and poor posture can also happen frequently in many working environments and can lead to many unseen dangers in the office. Tendonitis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are examples of common Musculoskeletal Disorders that can cause pain and discomfort in workers who do not use correct furniture and posture while on the job.

  • Mental health issues

Although it is true that work is generally good for a person’s mental health, a negative work environment can quickly lead to a downwards mental health spiral for employees. Factors that can lead to a negative working environment include toxic behaviour from co-workers and superiors, inadequate health and safety standards, inflexible working hours and overworking.

An unsuitable work environment, coupled with poor personal decisions by employees thus clearly has the potential to lead to serious health problems – something that we would all wish to avoid unless we want to end up looking like Emma. Thankfully, plenty of research has been done in this area, especially in recent years since the Covid pandemic where more people have found themselves happier and healthier working from home. Although not everyone has the luxury of a home office, many of the things that make the home office more comfortable can be directly applied to the office or workspace:

  • Comfortable and ergonomic workspaces

First and foremost – the desk and chair. The desk area, unsurprisingly, is where most employees spend the majority of their time in the office. Correct ergonomics in this area, including things like proper posture, correct monitor and chair height, wrist and elbow support and adequate spacing between equipment will thus go a long way in overcoming common issues like fatigue and Musculoskeletal Disorders. Ideally, desks should also be adjustable and chairs should have dynamic lower back support, like we have here at Vizi.

  • Correct lighting

Humans receive around 85 percent of our sensory information through our sense of sight, making appropriate lighting in the office space a necessity. Incorrect or low lighting can increase eye strain and easily lead to fatigue, headaches and even an increased risk of mistakes or accidents being made. The type of lighting in the workspace is also important. Daylight is preferable, as the natural lighting can increase employees’ vitamin D levels and improve their mood, as long as it does not cause glare or overheat the work area. Adequate electric lighting inside any building is also needed, with experts recommending adjustable personal lighting for individual workspaces. An often-overlooked lighting issue in offices is the phenomenon of blue light – the specific wavelength of light that is emitted by fluorescent lightbulbs, as well as the screens we use every day. Overexposure to this type of light can lead to health problems, such as headaches and interference with sleep cycles. Luckily, there are some simple solutions to this problem – most modern smartphones and monitors come with “comfort modes”, essentially supporting our eyes by dimming the blue light on our screens. Blue light filters are also commonly applied to reading glasses these days, which filter out the blue spectrum of light before it reaches our eyes. Anyone spending more than 6 hours a day looking at a screen should absolutely look into these options.

  • Adequate air quality

Another commonly overlooked feature of the workplace that has a significant impact on employee wellbeing is the air quality around the office or workplace. Adequate airflow around the workplace, be it via air-conditioning, windows or ventilation systems play a key role in the performance of employees – the carbon dioxide we exhale can easily build up in an enclosed space, having a noteworthy effect on the cognitive and decision-making abilities of anyone inside, as found by a study done by the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas. Smoke and other pollutants are also detrimental to employee health, so maintaining good air quality is essential to fostering a safe and productive work environment.

The health and happiness of employees are not just important to the employees, but to the company itself. Employees are an asset to the company and keeping them fit and healthy is quintessential to the success of any company, as sick leave and underperformance will undoubtedly affect profits and productivity. Fostering a culture of health consciousness is thus not only the job of the employee – it is up to employers to design workspaces and encourage habits that promote health and well-being.

Here at Vizi, we strive towards creating a health-conscious work environment with an emphasis on employee wellbeing, and we highly advise other companies to do the same. Speak to your employees or co-workers and find out how life around the office can be improved – you will be surprised by the positive effect it will have on your company.

Let’s avoid ending up like Emma by focussing on a happier, healthier future.


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