Hunched back. Dry, red eyes. Swollen wrists. Hairy noses and ears. Those are just a few of the effects office works of today may experience in the next two decades if current workspace conditions persist.
Meet Emma, a life-sized representation of what the average office worker may look like by 2040. Emma was designed by the UK-based Fellowes, a company that manufactures office supplies and workstation goods, who teamed up with a Behavioral Futurist and panel of experts in ergonomics, occupational health and wellbeing at work to compile a report detailing the future health effects from current working habits in the UK.
If current conditions are left unchecked, their research suggests that inadequately designed workstations exacerbating poor posture will lead to permanently bent backs from sitting hunched over a desk for long periods of time. Workers will also see varicose veins from poor blood flow due to sitting for long periods of time, red and dry eyes from staring at computer screens, swollen wrists from repetitive movement, hairy ears and nose from poor air quality, and irritated, sallow skin riddled with stress-related eczema.
“Unless we make radical changes to our working lives, such as moving more, addressing our posture at our desks, taking regular walking breaks, or considering improving our workstation setup, our offices are going to make us very sick,” said report author William Highman. “As a result, workers in the future could suffer health problems as bad as those we thought we’d left behind in the Industrial Revolution.”
The study authors note that workstation risk assessments are required across Europe but remain largely unaddressed. More than a quarter of requests reportedly go unresolved and one-fifth of workers say their bosses did not take their concerns seriously.
“Over time, sitting at a desk all day is going to have [a] profound effect on office workers’ health, both physically and psychologically,” said ergonomist Stephen Bowden, adding that employers should make “normal everyday movements” a routine part of the job by incorporating workstation additions like sit-stand desks.
The level of associated health problems current workers face has not been seen since the industrial revolution, said Fellowes in a press release. The average Brit will spend an average of six hours a day sitting at a desk, and 9 in 10 office workers report suffering ill health due to their work environment. Poor office environments cost the British economy an estimated £77 billion a year in sick days related to work as more than 90 percent of UK office workers say work-related aches and pains make their job more difficult.