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Give me a break

As the working world clocks more minutes sitting per day than ever before, a safe, injury-free office environment is more important than ever. The health impacts of constant discomfort at the desk can affect work, morale and, eventually, the business bottom line.

A 2013 Microsoft Healthy Computing survey of 535 Australian workers found 88 per cent of workers experience discomfort on the job. Shoulders and necks bear the most pain, with the upper back and wrists affected too, according to the survey.

The top source of discomfort was sitting at a desk for a long time; staring at a computer screen came in a close second. More than 40 per cent of workers said they would give up their end-of-year party to be comfortable all the time, and 37 per cent said they would rather be comfortable at work than have an office with a window.

But, with more and more businesses encouraging staff to hot-desk or telework, the emphasis on the importance of ergonomics seems to be falling by the wayside.

Microsoft Australia PC Hardware head Paul O’Doherty says all workplaces can cater for employees’ ergonomic needs, even if management prefers that staff members are hot-desking.

O’Doherty himself hot-desks. “There are a few desks that you can raise the height of, so things like that help because getting the seating right is a key part of ergonomics. We have lockers instead of having a desk and I keep a keyboard and a mouse in my locker and replace what’s on the desk,” he says. “It’s a little bit inconvenient, but it’s worth it.”

Although employers may not believe it, discomfort at work hurts the bottom line. According to the survey, 61 per cent of workers are unable to do their job at least once a month due to discomfort and 62 per cent take breaks when they don’t feel comfortable.

He says the best thing that businesses can do to help their employees feel more comfortable at work is to offer a selection of devices for people to try.

“I think it’s just having the flexibility of offering more choice,” he says. “It’s even worth having a pool of devices that people can try, so if you’re not comfortable with a particular keyboard, for example, you can try something different.”

“And you’re not necessarily clocking more expense either. It’s that difference between someone being comfortable and them having to take time off or taking more breaks.”

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