Will A Headrest Improve Office Chair Usability? Beware Of The Chimera Problem

Some years ago a supplier introduced a new range of office chairs called Chimera and was excited about it because the top model included a headrest. Whilst this wasn’t that unusual the pricing point was highly competitive and well below competing products.

It was good news as we had a client who particularly wanted a headrest but whose budget didn’t cover the cost of chairs with headrests. With the launch of the Chimera it seemed we had the answer and we hurriedly arranged for a sample to be sent over as well as making an appointment to visit the client with it.

When it arrived our enthusiasm evaporated, sure it had a headrest just like we’d seen in the photos, but there was a major problem. It was fixed, not only that the chair had a high back that was also fixed.

Running a tape over things it quickly became apparent that it would only suit someone between 5 feet 8 inches and 5 feet 10 inches tall. Our client was 5 feet 6 inches making the chair totally unsuitable; his head barely reached the bottom of the rest.

The headrest was about as much use as a snow plow in the Sahara. This supplier just hadn’t thought about how a headrest should function.

What is the purpose of a headrest on an office chair?
Lets consider the main objective of an office seat headrest . In many respects it’s quite similar to the ones you find in vehicles, it’s there to support your head when it’s needed.

So, it won’t normally be in constant contact with your head, instead it’s there as its name implies to rest your head on when you feel like it.

When should you use an office chair headrest?
When you are actively typing in your chair your head won’t normally be touching the headrest and as a result it doesn't get in the way when you are working with a keyboard.
It’s there for those moments when you feel like relaxing and leaning back in your chair.

Typically, if you are maybe relaxing while thinking through a problem, or reading a book or a report the added support a headrest provides is most welcome. It also works well like this when you are talking on the phone.

Anytime really when you are reclining in your chair, it’s great having the additional support a properly designed headrest provides.

What makes a headrest great?
To work effectively a headrest needs to be adjustable in height as a minimum. However as they are usually fitted to high back chairs this may not be much use for short built people as we saw with our Chimera.


Relaxing with a rest.

Let’s look at an example of a really well thought out headrest from HÅG of Norway. It's headrest is wider than most and there's a good reason this.

First, it lets you roll your head from side to side, providing some welcome movement to your head, neck and shoulder muscles.

Second, the extra width opens up new sitting positions, like sitting sideways on the chair and resting the side of your head.

It adjusts in height by a massive 10 inches, quickly and easily by pulling on it to alter the height. An adjustment knob at the base controls front to back depth so it's easy to set it to the ideal depth for your needs.

And as it uses a rubber mounting adjuster, it isn't rigid and yields a little as you rest your head on it.

Humanscale Freedom With Headrest

Freedom Headrest

The flexibility of this headrest will fit pretty much any height of office worker.

Another good example is the Freedom chair with headrest from Humanscale. Although it only adjusts in height, because the chair back isn’t too tall and is also height adjustable it works effectively for both tall and short users.

As we've already seen this isn't always the case with some rests.

When do headrests not work effectively?
Clearly fixed headrests should be avoided because unless you are the exact right height and body shape they will be ineffective and little more than a decorative feature.

Limited height adjustability may also be a problem, particularly if the chair has a fixed high back because it just limits the overall usability of the rest.

Also, how you prefer to use a headrest can make a difference. The classic position is for the back of your head to be supported. However, many like to use them as neck rests so it’s important to consider this when making your choice.

So, what have we covered?

  • Fixed headrests should be avoided they're little more than ornaments
  • A headrest normally works best when relaxing and reclining
  • Headrests won’t normally get in the way when working
  • The better the adjustment options the easier it will be to use
  • Always carefully check how a headrest interacts with the other features of the chair

By taking care of these points you should be able to avoid any Chimera moments.

Here’s where you can read more about HÅG's popular ergonomic chairs available with headrest options and here's where to find out more about Humanscale’s Freedom headrest chair.

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One Response to “Will A Headrest Improve Office Chair Usability? Beware Of The Chimera Problem”

  1. I hadn’t really thought of a head rest for my office chair.

    I can see how it would be quite useful though.

    Neil Smith

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