Workers Rise Up—And Get Out of Your Chairs!

HM_LOGOHere is this month’s piece on the changing world of work from furniture maker Herman Miller, a company for which Peter Drucker long consulted and that continues to exemplify his principles of innovation and effectiveness.

People who sit all day are at as high a risk of back injury as those who stand all day. The key to good ergonomic health is a mix of the two. In an ideal world, a person would work standing up or moving around at least five minutes an hour. The more the better!

Even with a great chair, we don’t promote sitting all day. And you can have a great sit-to-stand desk, but we don’t promote standing all day. It’s the blend of postures that makes the body happy.

That’s because the human body was built to move, and for the first 6 million years, humans either did just that—quickly and often—or they didn’t survive. Activity wasn’t built into life; it was life.

Image courtesy of Herman Miller
Image courtesy of Herman Miller

Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution, and technology began changing our activity levels. By 1950, almost 50% of Americans worked in white-collar jobs; by 2000, almost 75% did. In just a few generations, work has become something done from a chair for millions of people. Peter Drucker first described these “knowledge workers” in his 1959 book The Landmarks of Tomorrow. He was among the first to predict a shift away from an economy dominated by making products to one whose success is based on generating and using knowledge.

All this nonstop brain work is taking a toll—and Drucker knew that, too. “People work best if capable of varying both speed and rhythm fairly frequently,” he wrote.

Conditions related to sitting for too long affect worker health, productivity and the bottom line. Back pain just in 40- to 65-year-old workers costs employers an estimated $7.4 billion a year, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Providing a way for workers to sit and stand and move throughout their day can help. This can be achieved through the furniture itself, and it can be built into the workplace through the placement of shared equipment and common spaces. Create a layout that forces workers to take a longer route to their destination. Not only will it be good for their backs and circulation, but it will also increase the opportunity for chance encounters and serendipitous conversations—something as good for the organization’s health as it is for people’s.

—Wayne Baxter, Director of Product Management