Friday, August 20, 2010

The Cost of a Chair

The easy answer is "New, about $1000" for that model.

Though what does it actually cost, or what is it worth, that is a better question which most accountants (and typically poor managers) will interestingly ignore.

Though if it's a certain outcome you're after, i.e. healthy productivity of an individual (and team) then their physical environment can't be ignored.

As any ergonomists will tell you, and here, many do.

I find a common argument of "Oh we can't afford good equipment" or "We can crush another 10 desks in here, go to Ikea and pick up some tat and stack the programmers up" as actually absurd as it sounds.

Typically from a mindsets where creative individuals are classed as cogs in a machine, there to be spun faster. The main counter argument is going to have to be proof of difference and a financial counter argument I feel.

As is well researched it will take about 15-20 mins for a programmer to get into flow, where they are churning out pure gold (how shiny the gold is, is skill level and experience dependant of course).

This is also putting aside noise (being the #1 distraction in "cheaper is better" open plan offices) keyboard & screen ergonomics etc.

Just the chair.

So a poor chair having a comfort duration of say 1 hour, is going to allow for 45 mins of decent work before the individual has to get up, move, loose focus on work to readjust etc.

8 hour day, 15 mins to get back into flow, take out lunch, 3 periods before lunch and 4 after (given perfect conditions and no people in the office on phones or shouting at each other and being distracting, playing with nerf guns, etc).

If that's perfect, lets call it 5 periods of work being 225 mins of work a day (not accounting for pointless power point meetings with producers, management, sales reps, etc).

This also doesn't account for long term degradation of back due to posture etc.

The counter in a decent chair (my preference being the Areon) is that you can do near countless hours in one, breaking only for the call of nature or when the lights are turned off and the doors shut.

3 hours before lunch, 4 after, knock 1 off for pointless meetings, so 6 hours, 360 mins.

An extra 135 mins. Being 2~ hours a day, 10~ hours a week, 40~ a month. So an extra working week a month.

Given a hourly rate of $30 (relatively low for a programmer) that's $1200 a month, so more than the chair costs in the first month.

So how much does a good chair cost ? ....... in a month it costs minus $200 and in a year (before the employee moves on) :

Minus ..... $13,400 or you could say a bad chair cost $13,400 in lost unused wages.

So being cheap as a way of "saving money" appears the wrong way to go, let alone the long term physical health of an individual.

And next time ? ...... Pay for growing medical insurance, or pay for gym passes (or some kind of exercise, dancing, running, cycling to work, etc) and incentives people to go as part of the job.

Any other questions find @JeremyHutchings


  1. Completely agree! Hard as it can be to find the money for good gear (especially in a start up phase) the payoff is definitely there. Decent computers, decent monitors (dual and sometimes even triple monitors can improve workflow), etc. can all add up to better productivity.

    There is a point of diminishing returns and it's hard to walk that line as a manager.

  2. There is a picture some where of the good days of vBulletin, the office was desks with Aerons next to them and 3 dell monitors on top, a 24" flanked by two 20" !

    The company was well past the point of having enough £ at that point, though even in the early days the chairs were there !

  3. Actually even if chair is comfortable, programmer SHOULD stand up and walk around every hour or so, or the 13'000$ yearly "savings" for company is actually paid from his future health, as he will pay dearly in years to come.

  4. We've tested them an and the best chair we've found is the Herman Miller Celle, its a bit newer than the and more comfortable than the Aeron. We have them for everyone at our office and they're only around $500.


  5. I find that a comfortable chair keeps me productive. And it doesnt have to cost $1000. The chair I have at home is the most comfortable of any office chair I have used - it only cost $100.

  6. Probably the most important aspect of a good ergonomic chair is movement. The chair should follow and support the user and allow for varied seating positions. Decent ergonomic chairs will pivot to facilitate this and have adjustable tension control to deal with different user weights.Corrigo Chairs