Office chairs come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors – and so do the people who use them. Bryant Rice of DEGW, a workplace consulting firm in New York, said that office chairs comprise 10% to 15% of the average office furniture budget, though they rival the worker’s bed as the piece of furniture they spend the most time in. This is why office chair selection is one of the most important decisions you can make regarding your personal health and office productivity.
What should you look for in an office chair? The right type of office chair for you depends on the amount of time you’ll be spending in it, what you do while sitting in it and several other factors. Let’s go over everything you need to know to find the office chair for you and your workplace.
Types of Office Chairs
Conference chairs, also known as passive chairs, are designed for those sitting around a conference table. They are usually minimally adjustable but highly comfortable, especially if you’re in a relaxed sitting position. They are intended to be exactly that so that your chair isn’t a distraction from the meeting. Conversely, the ergonomics of this type of chair are horrible for someone who needs to do detailed assembly work or work on a computer for eight hours a day.
Task chairs are chairs designed to be used by multiple users and support a specific task. Many task chairs are ergonomic chairs, but not all are. For example, drafting chairs that let someone sit in front of a drafting table and usually come with a foot support are rarely ergonomic. Task chairs come in small back or mid-back styles. Small back chairs have small backs and the rest of the “back” is open air except for the bar supporting the back cushion. Mid-back chairs have a much larger back cushion.
Ergonomic chairs are the highly adjustable chairs to suit any user within very broad limits. These chairs are typically intended to support users who work at a desk for eight or more hours a day. Kneeling chairs can be classified as a type of ergonomic chair designed for those with problems with circulation.
Executive chairs are designed for the executives. Their hallmarks are thicker padding for the seats and armrests, more expensive upholstery like leather seat covers and features the executive’s subordinates don’t get. Executive chairs may or may not be ergonomic chairs, though they are always more adjustable than your basic office chair.
Guest chairs are the basic seats that are placed opposite of the executive’s chair. They provide basic, comfortable seating for a short meeting and fit pretty much everybody. These chairs are usually found in the reception area or waiting room, and they may be found in the office as extra seating to be pulled out when required. However, their design does not properly support someone who needs to sit in front of a computer all day.
Stacking chairs are even more basic than guest chairs. The emphasis in their design is minimalist design and stackability. These are the chairs they put in the cafeteria so they can stack them up to free up space for a product demonstration or pull out of storage when there will be an all-hands meeting. They only have legs, a seat and a back.
Stools are most commonly used when someone either needs a full range of motion like the assistant in a doctor's or dentist’s office or frequently gets up like many assembly workers.
What Should You Look for in an Office Chair?
Comfort should be first on your list of requirements. Comfort is far more than how well the seat suits you when you first sit down. The ergonomics of an office chair are essential. The chair must let allow users to adjust the seat height, lumbar support, armrests, head rests and other elements to positions that fit them; the exception to this rule is if the chair will be used by only a single person, but even then there are times we find we need more back support or a wider setting on the armrests due to bodily changes.
If you develop sciatica, the lumbar support may need to become harder. For pregnant women, it may need to move lower and become softer. Those settings also need to be solidly locked in unless deliberately changed so that your productivity isn’t sapped by constantly fiddling with the chair.
Ergonomics is also related to the size of the chair relative to the user. The best office chair is the one that fits you. When you are sitting in a chair, your feet should either be flat on the floor or on the foot rest. A perfectly adjustable chair that cannot go up high or low enough for you isn’t a fit. Chairs specifically for petite users and big and tall consumers are more expensive than the standard ergonomic chair but may be necessary for these individuals.
Durability should be second on the list when determining what to look for in an office chair. This is where a $300 office chair that lasts ten years is a better deal than the $50 chair that falls apart within a year.
The materials the chair is made out of should not be overlooked. Aluminum chair frames give you a light chair with a polish appearance, but it is structurally weak and easy to scratch up. Chrome gives the same polished appearance and is easy to clean but costs more. Steel is low maintenance, long lasting and resists corrosion. However, it is more expensive than the other metals in this list.
Nylon is lightweight and durable but has a matte appearance. Wood gives you a natural look that is durable and ecologically sustainable. However, it makes the chairs heavy, has a high initial cost and potentially rots or attracts insects, depending on the environment.
Seat material matters, too. Bonded leather denotes status and luxury like real leather for a fraction of the cost, but it requires frequent maintenance and has poor breathability. Real leather gives the chair a sophisticated appearance, which is why it is often the defining characteristic of executive chairs. It is long lasting than faux leather and naturally resists stains, spills and smells.
The downsides are its cost, the need for periodic reconditioning and sensitivity to temperature extremes. Standard fabric seats have minimal upkeep but wear thin with frequent use, tend to fade on exposure to sunlight and are easily damaged by sharp items, including the keys in someone’s pocket. Microfiber seats are stain resistant, fade resistant and durable. Conversely, it attracts dust and pet hair.
Plastic seats give you a surface resistant to stains, smells and spills but is uncomfortable to sit on for long. Plastic chairs are lightweight and low cost, but they aren’t durable. Plastic mesh chairs give users breathability they’d otherwise only find with cloth seats. Wood when used as a seat lacks padding and can crack on exposure to moisture but can last for years.
A Look at Some of the Best Office Chairs on the Market
1. AmazonBasics High-Back Executive Chair
This executive chair costs around low $XXX, and if you buy through Amazon, you’ll usually get free shipping, too. It is upholstered in a mix of bonded leather and PVC.
It offers thick padding and a 360 degree swivel. It has smooth rolling casters. This chair is available in both black and brown. You can adjust the seat height but not the lumbar support or armrests. It is easy to assemble. The seat padding is decent but wears down over a year or so. The risk of the padding deflating faster than this time frame increases along with the user’s weight.
The maximum weight it can support is 250 pounds. It offers about 20” of space between the armrests and 19” deep seat pan. Due to its dimensions and lack of adjustability, this chair is not for big and tall people. If you’re over 6 feet tall, it is much too small for you.
The biggest advantages of this office chair are its upmarket appearance at an affordable price and comfort for those who fit in it.
2. Best Office Brand Mid-Back Black Mesh Swivel Task Chair with Flip-Up Arms
This affordable task chair is available for less than a hundred dollars and can be found on sale for low $xx. The five casters make it both maneuverable and stable. The nylon base is heavy duty and easy to clean. It is easy to assemble. It is rated for users up to 250 pounds.
The mesh back of this chair is ideal for warmer climates, letting users’ skin breathe. It lacks more than minimal lumbar support. If you have back problems already, this is not the right chair for you. This is the best office chair for warm work spaces.
The chair has basic adjustability. You can alter the height of the chair and the tension of the sway, but nothing else. The arms’ height is not adjustable, though you can swivel them out of the way. These connection points are weak and have a tendency to break if you do that often.
If the chair’s standard dimensions fit you, then it is literally a good fit. For everyone else, a more adjustable chair is in order.
3. AmazonBasics Mid-Back Office Chair
This is one of the most affordable office chairs on this list. It cost low $xx, and it usually ships for free if you order it through Amazon. It comes with bonded black leather for an upmarket appearance given its price.
It is reasonably adjustable given the price. You can tilt it forward or back, and you can adjust the seat height. It has relatively little lumbar support. The five point base is quite stable. It is comfortable enough for occasional use but is not suitable for sitting in eight hours a day.
It has a maximum weight capacity of 225 pounds. It does not fit petite individuals standing five feet tall or shorter. Its greatest weakness is how hard it is to assemble. And unlike some chairs on this list, assembly is rarely offered as an additional service when you order the chair.
4. Best Office Brand Ergonomic PU Leather High Back Office Chair, Black
This is an affordable office chair with a high back for those who want that greater degree of back support. It costs about low $xx for an individual chair, and some vendors offer per unit discounts if you buy them in two packs. This office chair is commonly available in black, white and brown.
This office chair has an adjustable seat height of between 19” and 23”. The seat is 20” by 20”. The chair itself has relatively thin padding, though this can be supplemented with a pad or pillow if the ergonomics otherwise suit you. It has very little lumbar support.
It has a full 360 degree swivel. This office chair has a weight limit of 250 pounds.
The downside of its low cost and mid-grade construction is that it lasts up to a year.
5. Serta Executive Office Chair, Microfiber
Serta is better known for its comfortable mattresses, not its office chairs, but it carries those same design priorities into its office furniture. And unlike Serta’s expensive mattresses, this well-padded chair costs less than a hundred dollars. It has contoured lumbar support and a pillow neck rest that make it comfortable to sit in or lean back in. However, there is no headrest.
The five point base is ultra-stable. The waterfall seat edge makes chair a good choice for those with poor circulation in the legs. This is the best office chair on this list for those who need a chair that won’t aggravate existing circulatory problems. The microfiber upholstery is easy to clean and resists stains.
However, it isn’t easy to assemble, which is why many retailers offer expert assembly for more than half the chair’s purchase price. And the chair isn’t as durable as higher end pieces of furniture. It is comfortable until the end, but doesn’t last very long. It falls apart after a year or two of extended use.
6. Mid Back Mesh Ergonomic Computer Desk Office Chair
This office chair is as cheap as one can practically go short of a folding chair. Its list price is low $xx per chair, and it is often sold at a lower per unit cost when you buy more than one.
This mid-back mesh chair is a good, all-purpose task chair. It isn’t suitable for sitting in all day due to the lack of lumbar support or adjustability beyond height adjustment. It is difficult to assemble. This is why expert assembly is often offered along with the chair when ordered online.
It comes in three colors, black, white and red. The five point base makes it reasonably stable. The design is suitable for a shorter than average person, making it ideal for someone who is petite but doesn’t want to buy the niche “petite” sized office chair.
It is good enough for someone who alternates running errands and walking around the office with sitting at the desk. This is the best office chair for someone on a budget as long as you don’t spend hours each day sitting in it.
7. Comfort Products 60-5607M Mid-Back Leather Office Chair, Black
This office chair costs around high $XX. Its five point base makes it stable, though you cannot tilt the chair back. Its free rolling casters make it maneuverable. This chair is also quite adjustable. It has height adjustment and adjustable tension. The hydraulic height adjustment is not precise so you may need several attempts to get it to stop at the chair height you want.
The downsides include permanently locked in place arm rests and inability to customize the seating posture. The cushions of this chair are also relatively hard. The unit is cheap, which explains why the arms have a tendency to break off. The durable nylon base doesn’t have the same problem.
This is a low cost office chair that suits someone who only sits in it for short periods of time. Don’t use it as a computer desk chair, though it works as a guest chair. This is the best office chair for an office that wants a faux executive chair for a fraction of the price.
8. Office Star Brand Mesh 2-to-1 Synchro & Lumbar Support Managers Chair
This is an upscale office chair. It cost low $xxx . The eco-leather model of this chair costs more than the “manager’s” chair. This chair has built in lumbar support. The mesh seat allows your skin to breathe. It is rated for users up to 250 pounds.
The chair’s height is easily adjusted via a button there just for that purpose. It also has very precise tilt control and tension adjustment. The arms can be flipped up and out of the way. The casters give the chair some maneuverability, but it is mediocre enough that the manufacturer sells sets of better casters for this office chair.
This model can be hard to assemble, which is why many retailers offer expert assembly as an additional service with this chair.
If you need a good ergonomic office chair but don’t need it to roll around the office, this is a decent choice if you have the budget for it. This is the best office chair on this list for someone with back or joint problems.
Health Benefits of Using a Good Office Chair
The health benefits of a good office chair start with proper ergonomics. When someone can comfortably sit for hours, their productivity is higher. They won’t develop back pain, leg cramps or repetitive stress injuries because their body is properly supported. Make the wrong purchase, and you’ll either spend too much time stretching to prevent aches and pains or a fortune at the chiropractor. The Journal of Safety Research reported in 2008 that improving the ergonomics of the chairs used in an office could improve productivity up to 17%.
Chairs that reinforce good posture not only prevent back pain for employees but literally put them in the ideal position for welcoming clients. Someone in a chair that doesn’t fit them will have to hunch over to see the computer screen, shift regularly to avoid aches and pains or develops problems like a stick neck that alters their body language and impacts their health.
If you already have circulatory problems, the wrong office chair will cause worse circulation, joint pain and other problems. For example, if the seat is too close to your knees, you’ll have circulation problems even if you didn’t have them before. Conversely, seats that are too long will cause back and leg strain because you can’t gain the benefit of the back rest. When you are seated, you should have a three or four finger width between your knees and the front edge of the chair’s seat. The best office chair for someone with circulatory problems in their legs will be one with a waterfall design that cannot put pressure on the back of the legs or knees.
If you have sciatica, the pain will be worse and even impact your mobility if you have an un-ergonomic chair. It is certainly cheaper to invest in a good office chair than pay out disability claims because someone’s slipped disk pain or sciatica was made worse by cheap office chairs.
According to the Journal of Safety and Research study cited before, workers experienced fewer musculoskeletal disorders, lower absenteeism and fewer errors when given good ergonomic office chairs. If your sciatica isn’t flaring up, you won’t miss work because of it and certainly won’t be as distracted by it to make mistakes while working. A pregnant woman with an ergonomic chair may be able to work later into her pregnancy and miss less time overall, and she isn’t likely to go on bed rest citing back pain if she’s comfortably supported.
Chairs that don’t let your skin breathe cause the body to sweat, resulting in both the chair and its occupant not smelling the sweetest. In the worst case scenarios, this facilitates rashes and skin problems. The best office chair for an office that is warm or receives heavy summer breezes will have a mesh back. Mesh seats are less common due to the desire for padding in that area.
Chairs that swivel improve the productivity of the user, since that individual doesn’t have to get up, force the chair back and retrieve something or else twist in an awkward manner to grab something. This is why even many cheap task chairs swivel or have rollers that provide the same effect. Choose rollers when someone is working at a long desk or table and a swiveling chair if they are working on a two or three sided desk or central hub like a nurse’s station. In either case, select a chair that is very stable so that they don’t tip over while turning around.
Armrests that allow you to literally rest your arms help prevent repetitive stress injuries. Arm rests that are too high prevent you from keeping your forearms parallel to the floor when typing and essentially guarantee a case of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Looks aren’t everything when it comes to chairs and should actually be at the bottom of the list when it comes to criteria. Buy good office chairs that offer both comfort and literal versatility so that they are an ergonomic fit for almost all of your staff. Select chairs that suit the purpose, such as chairs upholstered in easy to clean materials if placed in a break room or lab. For everyone else, buy the most comfortable chairs possible because it is an investment in the productivity and health of the workforce.
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