Back pain kills productivity, partly because of the constant discomfort but mainly because of the compelling work-avoidance strategies your subconscious will employ to keep you away from your desk. We'd argue that a good – and exorbitantly expensive – ergonomic desk chair can pay for itself because it helps you to slip into the zone, then lets you stay there until you're rich again.
Cost aside, the problem with ergonomic chairs is that they're very difficult to find in South Africa – especially if you want to try before you buy. Also, local distributors don't advertise their prices. You have to ask for a quote, which can be annoying in today's one-click culture. Still, it's probably good to have a barrier to impulse-buying, considering the prices in play. And it also means there might be room for a bit of bargaining.
The Series 1 is the entry-level option from Steelcase, which you can pick up for about R6,000* from Inspiration Office. It is decent, with a breathable mesh back that will hug you tight with all its might.
The arms adjust every which way, and there is an optional-extra headrest, which is the big drawing card for Steelcase.
Where the Series 1 is a good chair with a headrest, the Steelcase Gesture – at around R19,000* – is on another level. It is a sexy, adjustable full-tilter that lets you switch easily from leaning in towards your desk to kicking back into a deep recline that is perfect for naps.
Herman Miller does not do head rests. Something to do with blood flow; we glazed over when the sales guy explained why.
But what it does do is damn fine chairs. It's best known for the Aeron, the gold standard for ergonomic office chairs since 1992 - for good reason: it’s a superb chair, with plenty of adjustment options to keep your back and bottom happy during long-haul work binges.
It tops out at about R24,000, but right now that buys you the absolute very best in ergonomic office chairs: Herman Miller's Cosm line
It's a new and weird design that launched a year ago, its weirdness perhaps most starkly evident in the “leaf” elbow rests, Herman Miller’s recommended option in place of regular arms.
And it doesn't have adjustment options. Its entire purpose is to adjust itself to you - or perhaps to adjust you to it. Whatever: it doesn't have knobs or levers.
What it does have is the most incredible lower back support we have ever experienced. Your mileage may vary, of course, but when its fine suspension mesh moulds itself firmly to your contours don't be surprised if you start to get a bit weepy. Especially if you're trying it out knowing you can't afford its admittedly staggering price tag.
But like we said, a good ergonomic desk chair pays for itself. Not upfront, alas, but at least you'll get where you're going without having to busting your ass - or your back. If you can afford it, get the Cosm. It will make you money. Maybe.
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* These were prices quoted to us in person on the showroom floor, but they may vary according to customisable options, specials, the weather, the salesperson’s mood, or the number of units ordered; we understand bulk orders can result in discounts of as much as 20%.
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