The Hidden Dangers of Working in an Office
A large portion of American workers these days work in an office. An office is a great place where people can come together to collaborate and accomplish many things. However, any office environment has a number of hidden dangers that workers need to look out for. The irony is that the perception of office work is that it is safe, comfortable, and easy. To someone who's never worked in an office, this is the stereotype of their white-collared friends.
Workers who partake in manual labor, work in factories, or work outdoors often do have dangerous jobs. While there are true and recognized dangers for those professions, people who work in offices have other things to worry about. In this article I'll explore several of the dangers, both true and satirical in nature, that may occur while working in an office
The Dangerous Office Chair
Little do most people realize that the infamous and ubiquitous office chair is actually an instrument of pain and disease. The office chair is often the source of continuous back pain and poor posture in the office worker. This can result in muscle imbalances that lead to unnaturally hunched shoulders, rounded backs, and a crooked neck. I think I read somewhere that the Hunchback of Notre Dame actually compulsively worked in an office.
In addition to these physical ailments, this seemingly harmless device is one of the main contributors to the obesity epidemic. In fact, office work is one of the most sedentary professions around aside from, perhaps, truck drivers and professional chair testers. You burn significantly less calories when sitting down all day. The office chair is just not good for your health.
If that's not bad enough, even the most comfortable and inviting office chairs can also affect your body's internal organs and their functionality. Sitting in a chair tends to restrict blood flow through the body, especially through the hips and legs. In addition, breathing efficiency is reduced because the contractions of the diaphragm is constrained. Out of all of the dangers of an office, the friendly office chair has got to be one of the most dangerous things around. If you work in an office or are thinking about working in one, watch out for the deadly office chair.
The Computer Keyboard
When you work in an office, you will probably find yourself using a computer keyboard a lot. In addition to the annoying clack of dozens of workers pounding on their keyboards, repetitive use of this device can lead to a condition known as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). This workplace injury is caused by typing out too many emails, writing too many reports, and inputting way to much data into spreadsheets and databases. Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome include numbness, pain, or a needle-like tingling feeling in your hands. Ergonomic keyboards do exist that can reduce the strain on your hands and delay the onset of CTS, however, most offices I have worked in don't have them.
The Computer Screens
A computer screen is cool and useful device that can help you get a lot of work done. This includes things like displaying the 100's of emails that you'll never read, showing animated 3D simulations of abstract art, and playing music videos when your boss isn't looking.
However, as cool as computer screens are (especially dual or triple 4K OLED ones) they simply aren't very good your eyes. First, the bright light from the screen the tends to dilate your pupils which can make it difficult to adjust to natural lights. Bright screens have even been shown to affect your sleep patterns long before you hit the hay. Next, the repetitive eye motions , such as what is required to read content on a screen all day can contribute significantly to eye strain and tired eyes. When you combine this with such things as glare, screen flickering, and high contrast colors, the computer screen can lead to a condition called Computer Vision Syndrome or CVS. CVS is a real condition that affects the eyes in a similar fashion that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome affects the hands and wrists. Don't believe me? After I read this WebMD article I'm pretty sure I need to see a doctor because I know I have CVS.
The Break Room
In almost every office there is a break room where employees can go to enjoy a few moments away from their desk. While in the break room, workers can get a glass of water, grab a cup of coffee, or steal someone else's lunch from the fridge. Many break rooms also have vending machines that steal your change while tempting you with unhealthy candy bars and chips.
Break rooms are great for a lot of things, however, what most office workers won't tell you is that the break room can actually be quite a dangerous place. First of all, as a place for gathering, you run the risk of subjecting yourself to negative office gossip and time-wasting water cooler chat. In addition, the break room is also a place where germs and microbes are frequently exchanged. Plagued by a constant stream of unwashed hands, it's always good to assume that everything in the break room is harboring a killer disease.
Break rooms are famous for their coffee machines, water coolers, and ice machines. If they aren't maintained properly on a frequent basis, these seemingly innocuous devices can actually harbor mold and microbes. Who is responsible for cleaning these in your office? When was the last time you saw anyone clean the water cooler or wash out the coffee pot? Maybe the janitors do it at night? Do you really know? Can you trust anyone? This is one reason why I keep secret appliances in my office for my personal use.
Let's also not forget about the famous break room refrigerator either. Everyone uses the refrigerator to store their lunch yet no one will claim ownership over the 4 month old, leftover cheese cake that's discreetly fermenting in the lower back shelf. Unless you have someone responsible for cleaning out the fridge on weekly basis, you've basically got one giant science experiment growing in the break room. I'm sure the boss is just waiting for the Nobel Prize Committee to come and see the employee's creation. Oh, and did I mention that people will often steal your lunch? Wow, this makes me want to quit my office job.
The People (Some of Them)
Everyone knows that the office is full of people. In general, people aren't necessarily bad or dangerous by nature. Only some people are. In particular, every office has that one person who is known as "The Gossip." This person loves to spread rumors and can't stop talking about everyone else behind their back. Obviously, this person cannot be trusted.
Gossip is usually negative in nature tends to lower the morale of the workers, especially for those whom the gossip is about. This makes your job harder and can quickly undo any of the great feats of leadership that you bring to the table. Participating in gossip or even listening to it can affect your mood and quickly add stress to your life and increase the negative perceptions of people around you. Gossip builds mistrust. I challenge you to be the bigger person and avoid gossip at all costs!
Another type of office worker that you need to avoid is someone known as "The Chat"
The chat is a person who loves to talk but isn't necessarily the gossip of the office. The Chat loves to talk about anything and everything, so much so that they never seem to get any work done. When The Chat comes to your office or cubicle you can't seem to get any work done either. These people are interesting, charming, and have magical powers that can keep you conversing longer than you thought you could. If you get sucked into a conversation with The Chat, prepare for a late night at work. As a result, your stress levels increase and you might find your boss angry with you for wasting time and not getting anything done.
The office gossip and the office chat can sometimes be the same person. In any case, these people can often define office politics. Office politics can get in the way of you completing your job efficiently and on time which adds to your stress and frustration. Every office environment has politics and a culture. The danger is letting yourself getting sucked into the negativity and allowing yourself to spend too much time dealing with it.
Many officer workers truly love working day-in and day-out in their tiny 6x6x8 foot, felt padded, cubicle. While smaller than most prison cells, the cubical has become the de facto location for office workers to get their jobs done. For those with claustrophobia, a cubicle can be a very depressing and dangerous place. For all other workers, cubicles offer little privacy and position you in close proximity to other workers. This means you can enjoy being next to your coworkers at all times. So when your colleague is getting sick and can't seem to get his sneezing or coughing under control, you can rush over to help in less than a second. And when Janice from finance starts to eat her leftover microwaved fish or begins munching on some scorched popcorn in the adjacent cubical, you can rejoice together when the aroma crosses your nostrils.
The Email System
To an organization and the office worker, the email system is like their life blood. Everything revolves around emails. If you work in an office, you have probably found yourself spending hours checking and responding to emails. Checking emails can even become a compulsion that adds stress to your life and negatively impacts the work/life balance that you are trying so hard to maintain. Anxiety over checking emails and responding to them can cause many ailments like hypertension, headaches, and in some cases, uncontrollable stress-induced vomiting. I personally know workers who get hundreds of emails a day. I don't know how they actually get any work done. Behind every one of those emails is someone who is waiting for a response. Just thinking about responding to all these emails makes my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome flare up.
The Piles of Paperwork
For as much email that office workers receive, they still seem to have endless piles of paperwork to deal with. No one can figure out how to get rid of the paperwork. For an office worker, what little desk space they have often becomes reserved for stacks of paper. Paper can come in the form of reports, invoices, receipts, and such things as disciplinary actions, and new policies that no one knows about yet. Paper is actually quite dangerous, especially when you consider that each year hundreds of office workers complain of painful paper cuts. In addition, tall stacks of paper are very heavy and unstable. If you walk by one and accidentally brush against it, a toppling tower of paper can come crashing down possibly breaking your leg or crushing your toes.
The IT Department
And last but not least, one of the most dangerous things in any office is the IT Department. First of all, the IT Department doesn't trust anybody with anything. They lock down the computers and make it impossible to do your job unless you bribe them or beat them in a game of Unreal Tournament that is secretly loaded onto the server. When something goes haywire and you need to call IT, they accuse you of trying to "hack the system" or "upload a virus." When they realize that you really do just need help, the first thing they tell you to do is to restart your computer (if only we thought of that). This is of course if you can get to speak with them on the phone in the first place. They are usually so busy taking calls and telling other people to restart their computers that it could take hours to get them to respond to your issue.
The IT Department's customer service isn't even the worst part. Let's not forget about those forced security updates that occur with no warning just as you're typing the last sentence into a 40-page report that you forgot to save. If there was a term for road rage in the office this would be the cause of it.
Furthermore, let's not forget just how much power the IT department has. With a key-logger or a remote viewer they can easily see everything that you do at your computer. With the power of a few keystrokes they can delete all of your work or even plant suspicious files on your workstation.
I'm not saying that all IT Departments are bad for your health. They just tend to get a bad reputation for poor customer service. I apologize if I have offended any IT workers, they are really nice people if you get to know them. IT Workers are also really smart. If you have to work in an office one of my best suggestions is to befriend one of the IT employees and never make them angry. Bring them donuts and take them out to lunch if you have too. They will help you to get your job done better than anyone else.
How do you feel about office work?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Christopher Wanamaker