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Image / Editorial

We need to talk about ‘Emma’, the hunched office worker of the future


by Colette Sexton
06th Nov 2019
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We spend hours at desks but there are some things you can do to protect your health while keeping your job.


The news lit up recently with horror stories about the future office worker. Apparently spending so much time at our desks means that future humans could have a permanently hunched back, pale skin and red eyes.

I didn’t find that news particularly earth-shattering, considering if you just look around the Luas, Dart or bus in the morning, most weary commuters are hunched, pale and red-eyed. 

The research, which was commissioned by office supplies company Fellowes, analysed 3,003 people in France, Germany and Britain in June through an online survey. It found that more than a third of British office workers spend between seven and nine hours a day sitting at a desk and that many office workers suffer from strained eyes, sore backs and headaches.

To terrify us altogether, the researchers created a life-size model of what the typical office worker will look like in 20 years.

The doll, called “Emma” (pictured above), has a range of health problems including a permanently bent back, varicose veins, a rotund stomach, and dry and red eyes (Editor’s note: We are still trying to work out why there isn’t a male version of Emma and why she is wearing 90s office attire).

If you feel like you might be slowly turning into Emma, you can continue sitting hunched at your desk for the next 20 years and the effects of that means you probably won’t need to dress up for Halloween ever again, you’ll be able to terrify children all year round.

Don’t fancy that? Didn’t think so. Luckily, there are some things you can do to protect your health while keeping your job. 

Adjust your chair

Although you probably spend hours a day sitting at your desk, you probably haven’t bothered to ensure your chair is at the right position for you. There are reasons why modern-day office chairs come with a range of leavers – you are supposed to adjust them to suit your body perfectly.

Your feet should flat on the floor and your knees should be at a 90 degree angle. Your forearms should be parallel with or sloping slightly towards the desk, which takes pressure off your wrists and relaxes your shoulders.  

Get up

Now that your chair is perfectly adjusted, get up off it. In 2017, doctors from Columbia University, the University of South Carolina and other institutions tested around 8,000 adults aged 45 years or older and found that those who moved around every 30 minutes were less likely to die than those whose sitting was prolonged.

Try setting an alarm on your phone or watch every hour or so to remind you to move.

While it might not be feasible for you to get up at work every 30 minutes and move away from your desk, you might be able to move around more often than you currently are.

It can be easy to get lost in work and to forget to take a break from the desk. Try setting an alarm on your phone or watch every hour or so to remind you to move. Even changing position from your desk chair to another chair in the office will help your body and take pressure off certain areas olin the body. If your office has an area where you can work and stand at the same time, it is definitely worth doing that daily for as long as you can.

Protect your eyes

The glare of our screens follows us from when we wake up in the morning to when we set our alarms on our phones to go to sleep at night. Blue light is thought to cause sleep problems, weight gain and metabolic diseases.

To combat this, many people swear by wearing anti-blue light glasses while working at a computer, although scientific evidence for them is divided. Before you invest, try the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Also try to cut down on screen time in the evening before bed. 

Photograph: “Emma” – the life-size model of what the typical office worker will look like in 20 years.

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