Ergonomic Makeover: Fix Your Workspace In 5 Simple Steps

Last Updated Mar 29, 2011 9:43 AM EDT

An ergonomic workspace can prevent aches and pains, but could it also make you more productive? Half of the employees polled in a recent Staples survey think that it would. And 35 percent of respondents said a more comfortable setup at the office would stave off stress.

Unfortunately, 86 percent also complained that they weren't comfy in their current workspace.

Many companies probably aren't about to shell out for a Herman Miller chair simply because you ask for one, but you can take some small, inexpensive steps to be healthier, happier, and perhaps more productive while you work.

The first one: take frequent breaks to walk around; that will release tension throughout the body.

Then follow these other tips from ergonomic experts:

Enhance Your Laptop
Many workers love corporate laptops for telecommuting. But you might be putting your neck at risk if it's your full-time machine. "Using a laptop for more than 4 hours per day presents an important ergonomic problem," says ergonomic expert David Rempel, M.D., MPh and professor of Medicine at the University of California. "The top of the screen should [generally] be near eye level to avoid neck pain from bending the head forward to see the screen."

If you can't get a full docking station, try one of these half measures: Plug in a separate monitor that can be positioned at the right height and about an arm's length away, or put the laptop on a riser so the monitor is at the right height, then add a separate wireless or wired keyboard and mouse. Rempel adds that a split keyboard can also decrease discomfort.

Secure Good Back Support
A solid office chair will have a built-in lumbar support. But there are ways to enhance your current chair, too. "If your chair doesn't have a lumbar support or it 'hits' you in the wrong part of your back ... you can roll a hand towel, tape it around so it maintains the roll and then place and tape it on your chair's back so fits right into you body's lumber area or low back," suggests Cynthia L.Roth, CEO of ETC, an ergonomics consulting company.

Sit Pretty
You do want to stop slouching, but experts say you shouldn't be 100 percent upright. "The best seated position is not an erect 90 degrees, but rather a reclined posture of 100 to 110 degrees. Keep your feet flat on the floor or resting on a footrest if needed, and avoid craning your neck or hunching your shoulders," says John Michael, vice president and general manager for Staples Advantage's furniture and interior design business.

Increase Your Font Size
Equipment has a lot to do with your comfort, but something as simple as moving from 12- to 14-point font could help. "A primary reason for people assuming a poor posture is that the text is too small so they have to lean forward to read," says Rempel.

Take a Load off Your Legs
Now think about your legs. "Ensure you have enough space under your workstation for placement of your thighs. This is called thigh clearance and it is important for good blood flow to the feet and legs. Using a footrest [also] maintains comfort and good blood supply," says Roth.

Got more tips for making your workspace more comfortable? Please sign in below and share your thoughts. And for more career advice, follow @MWOnTheJob on Twitter.
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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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