How Quickly Will Your New, Shiny, $100 Office Chair Become The Pain in Your Back?

So maybe you’re getting around to thinking it’s time you ditched that old office chair and you figure, “I’ll take a look in the local office supply depot, they’ve always got deals on desk chairs.”

You see what looks like a great deal. You sit in it, pull a few levers, feels comfortable — hey, it’s even got leather too.

Everything looks great, and yet – is it a serious bargain or is it a serious liability?

If you have a worn-out chair, then anything you sit in is likely to feel like a million dollars by comparison. Not only that, virtually any new chair you sit in for a couple of minutes will feel great, and that’s not altogether surprising.

After all, everything is new so it naturally feels good, and that’s where everybody gets it wrong with cheap chairs — they flatter to deceive.

To truly know whether a computer chair is right for you or not, you need to sit in it for several days — not minutes, not hours, several days. Only then will all its shortcomings become apparent. This is why a 30-day return policy is a must when buying either in person or online.

How do these shortcomings suddenly become apparent once you use it for a day or two? It’s down to what’s under the hood. Sure, on the exterior, the thing look great; yet what’s it really made of?

Any chair around the $100 mark will always be a compromise because it is made to fit a price, so corners get cut to achieve this.

Here are some of the things which aren’t immediately obvious about low cost chairs:

  • Made with cheap foam pads normally seen in packaging which soon lose shape and go as flat as a pancake.
  • Low cost upholstery which quickly takes a shine like a well-polished shoe. Or leather that likely came from remnants or rejects that ages prematurely becoming brittle and starting to crack.
  • Low quality components — arms that break off, backs that won’t recline or stay in place, gas lifts that keep descending.
  • Limited or no guarantee — a sure sign the supplier sees the product as little more than a liability.

The right approach
Here's where you can read about the critical features you need to insist on when replacing your old desk chair.

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Why Are Some People Always In Such A Rush To Buy An Office Chair?

You're watching a movie, there’s a bank heist going on. The guy in the getaway car is sitting there, engine running, fingers drumming on the steering wheel. His eyes are twitching nervously, sweat slowly trickling down his neck and he’s thinking – “Come on guys, let’s get outta here!”

And soon out come the villains, running with the bags of cash they dump them in the trunk and wheels spinning they make their getaway…

The way some people buy an office chair has a lot of similarities, no of course they don't steal one, and yet they seem to want to get the transaction done as quickly as possible.

And they actually end up robbing themselves in the process.

Why is this?
Probably the biggest single reason is they just don't see it as important, after all it’s only an office chair they’re all pretty similar aren't they? Er no.

They figure they’ll just call in at the discount office supplies place, they’ve always got some deals going down on chairs, I'll grab me a bargain.

So in they go, sit in a couple of demo models for 30 seconds, pull some levers and turn a few knobs. A snap decision is made and away they go feeling relieved they got it sorted without any hassle and pleased with the $79 price tag.

Reality is the hassle comes later, in about a week’s time. Let’s come back to that later.

What pressures people into this way of picking an office chair?
Very often it comes about as the result of sitting in a totally worn out desk chair. They’ve been putting off forever replacing it because it still works, even though it’s as uncomfortable as hell.

But then it finally gives up the ghost, maybe an arm falls off, or the seat keeps sinking, or a wheel breaks off – whatever, now they have to sort it out and quick.

That’s when they make the rushed trip to get a replacement and very likely buy more of the same.

Why is this the wrong approach?
If you spend all day sitting in a desk chair then going out and simply buying the cheapest chair you can lay your hands on is definitely the wrong approach, here's why.

Working long hours in a low quality office chair is just another form of torture. These products are made to meet a price and the manufacturer will cut any corners they can to get there. Especially on the parts you don't see like the foam padding and the chair’s internal workings and fixings.

When you weigh up how long you sit each day it may even match or exceed the time you spend in your bed. Surely, you wouldn’t buy a bed in this way? Why is it any different with a chair?

Getting it right
When you need to replace your chair you should set aside time to research what you need. There are certain key functions you need and typically you will find less than half of them on sub $100 chairs.

Think about how much more productive you would be if you weren't constantly uncomfortable because what you are sitting in isn't fit for the purpose.

Recognize that you will need to spend at least a few hundred dollars to get the right answer.

And never make a decision after sitting for a couple of minutes in a chair. Why? Because it’s bound to feel great if your existing chair is worn out.

To properly assess a chair you need to sit in it for at least a few days to a week, before any shortcomings become apparent. So make sure whether you are buying offline or online there is a decent return period in case you need to return it, say 30 days.

Here's a quick summary of some quality ergonomic office chairs you might want to check out, if you are thinking of getting a new one.

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How A Black Friday Office Chair Deal Turns Into A Bad Dream: The Illusion Of Apparent Quality

Picture this, it’s Thursday night the Thanksgiving meal was great but you’ve eaten far too much and you're dozing in front of the TV. You start drifting off to sleep and before you know it you're dreaming about all those Black Friday bargains.

You're wandering around this giant big box retailer taking in all these irresistible offers and as you turn the corner into the next aisle, there it is! A beautiful gleaming office chair, in black leather too and the chrome base glistens invitingly at you.

“Man this looks great.” you say, so you take a seat in it, “Wow this is really comfortable.” you tell yourself as you slowly sink into its welcoming arms and gently recline back.

You pull a few of the levers just to see what they do and you start thinking about your own computer chair and all the pain and discomfort it’s been giving you lately. This is just so much better you reason and the price is a steal at only $99.99, so you buy it.

Then this dream of an office chair takes a turn for the worse, in fact it ends up being a complete nightmare. It’s 2 months on and you still haven’t found a really comfortable setting as you continue to experiment with all those levers.

You're thinking it would help if there was an instruction sheet telling you what they all do. And as you pull the rear lever on the right it throws you right back in the chair again and you lose all your settings, damn!

And now you start thinking and you realize this new chair is no more comfortable than the old one. It seemed really comfortable when you first tried it on Black Friday and yet it’s all gone lumpy and hard now. Even the leather has lost its luster and is becoming dull and brittle and you begin to regret ever setting eyes on it.

Suddenly you wake up as some old movie is blaring out and you realize you fell asleep and better get to bed. And you're real glad the new office chair was just a bad dream and you vow to resist any shiny new seats when you're out shopping tomorrow.

Unfortunately many will make the mistakes our Thanksgiving dreamer did, only for real. Here's why these deals are too good to be true.

Any chair around the $100 mark will always be based on apparent quality and not true quality. What is apparent quality? It’s making all the exterior parts look top dollar, so you get the leather upholstery, the glossy chromed base and an array of adjustment levers.

And so, it’s the bits you don’t see that where all the corners get cut. The cheap crappy mechanism based on 25 year old technology and made from low grade steel. The padding usually made from packing grade foam or even bulked up with clay to make it seem dense, little wonder it soon goes as flat as pancake.

The only thing on the seller’s mind is price and how they can keep the cost of the product down, kind of scary when you figure out after the retailer’s cut less than half the chair’s cost went into the parts. And that’s not allowing for any labor costs – as the old saying goes “if it seems too good to be true then it probably is.”

So, how can you avoid buying another of these bad dream seating disasters?

It’s crucial to make sure any office seat includes 5 vital functions, to enable you to get it properly adjusted for your needs and support, you can read all about them here.

Don’t be fooled into thinking because the label says it’s an ergonomic office chair it must be fit for purpose. The term ergonomic when related to office chairs has no exact definition, it merely becomes the hype used to sell you an inferior product when placed in the hands of less scrupulous marketing men.

Always check the warranty, anything less than 2 years almost certainly means it’s a poor quality chair. After all, if you make a product the warranty represents the confidence you have in the product and you are hardly likely to offer a multi-year guarantee if you know that certain parts will only last 12 months.

Let the guarantee period act as an indicator of the likely life span of the chair, Humanscale offers 15 year warranty on its seating, there's confidence for you.

Realize you cannot be sure a chair will be comfortable by sitting in it for a few minutes in a warehouse or showroom and pulling a couple of levers. To truly know if it is right for you will take days as you fine tune and alter settings to suit you, it’s a personal thing.

Insist on a decent return period whether you buy from a retailer or through an online store, typically look for 30 days because if it isn't working for you after a month you will need to return it.

Lastly, if the thought of spending more than $100 on a new chair is hard to accept think about how long you spend in one each day. Chances are it’s not far off the time you spend in your bed and I bet you spent more than a $100 on that.

And so, look on it as an investment in your health, comfort and productivity and avoid those bad dream chairs. Here's a quick summary of some quality office chairs which will serve you for many years to come.

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Buying A New Office Chair? Beware Of The Lure Of Decimal Point Syndrome

If you're thinking of buying a new office chair then you need to apply some thought to the process rather than just rushing out and buying some close out offer.

When you spend long hours sitting at a computer all day you absolutely have to make sure what you are sitting in is fit for purpose.

So the first thing you have to realize is that $50 won't hack it, I call this approach Decimal Point Syndrome because in truth you need to move the decimal point one place to the right and be thinking about investing more like $500.

Sorry if that's a bit of a shock, nonetheless it's reality. After all, when you consider you will probably be spending as much if not more time in a desk chair than you do in your bed it starts to make sense.

Seriously, I'm sure you wouldn't think about only spending $50 on a bed, unless you relish the thought of lying on a bag of springs stuffed with packing foam.

It's no different with an office chair, it simply isn't possible to get any level of quality for even a $100, at this price point every component in the chair will be cut back in quality to meet the price.

Why is it people keep buying these sub-standard products? I believe there are a number of reasons.

First, big name office product retailers are constantly promoting these types of chairs competing with each other to be the cheapest. And so without realizing it you become conditioned into thinking this is what you should be spending on a computer chair.

Second, these products often look good, frequently upholstered in leather which somehow seems to convince people it's a quality product, when in fact it's anything but.

Lastly, people don't very often get the chance to see and try a quality office chair in the flesh unless you go to a specialist supplier and they aren't exactly on every street corner. Consequently, you rarely get the chance to compare the good with the bad.

This is unfortunate as the difference in quality and comfort would soon become apparent.

A good quality chair needs to have certain critical features, I've distilled these down to 5 key essentials you must insist on when buying a new office chair. Here's a quick summary of ergonomic chairs worth checking out.

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Why Movement and Variation is Vital for Office Workers’ Posture

If you’ve ever looked at the structure of the skeleton, or one of those spine models you see in physios’ treatment rooms, then you’ll quickly appreciate the importance of movement.

Just think of all the infinite changes in position your body is able to make. Then you’ll realize variation in movement is what it is designed for.

So when you spend long hours fixed in the same position in a poor computer chair, you’re completely going against what your body is made for, and this is not good. In reality, you do move constantly, even when sitting in a bad chair.

The problem is, it isn’t supporting you properly. Even when sleeping at night, you will likely move several times during the night. Why is it so important to move and be correctly supported when sitting?

When we’re young, it doesn’t seem too important. Our body seems to be able to quickly recover. However, as we get older, things change and recovery of posture takes longer. If you ignore it for too long, the consequences can be quite serious.

You need only observe other people to see this. I recently saw a man, probably in his 60s, who had no movement in the vertebrae in his neck. The bones were fused together and as a consequence, his head was permanently pointing downwards.

He needed to read a notice board and the only way he could do it was to lean back about 30 degrees so he could read it. Don’t let something like this happen to you.

First, pay attention to pain. It’s your body’s way of telling you something isn’t right. So if you have neck pain, for instance, ask yourself why.

Chances are, you’ve been sitting in the same unhealthy posture for far too long. Get up and take a stretch, do a few simple exercises to get things moving again.

Second, if you have a crappy chair and you find pain and discomfort issues are getting worse, maybe it’s time for a change.

A good quality office chair is one of the best investments you can make for your body and healthy back support. So rather than skimping and buying another cheap task chair, think about the benefits you will gain by opting for quality. Here’s a quick summary of some excellent office chairs designed to support you properly and remain comfortable when working long hours

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Is Your Office Chair The Focal Point Of Your Work Area?

Your office chair is the key component of your work area set up. Everything you do flows from its relationship with the other key element which is you workstation or desk.

First, make sure you have your chair comfortably adjusted and positioned with your desk so you have a good upright posture and aren't leaning or lurching at an unnatural angle.

Next, you need to take into account the 3 elements involving the equipment and items you use when working, these are:

  • Primary Work Zone
  • Secondary Work Zone
  • Rarely Used Items

Let's take a look at each in some more detail.

Primary Work Zone

Imagine sitting in your computer chair with an arc immediately in front of you with a radius of about 12 inches (30 cms) from where you are sitting at your desk, this is your primary work zone.

It should include things you use often or for extended periods during the working day, so it will likely be your keyboard and mouse, pens etc. Arrange them so you can easily reach them.

Secondary Work Zone

This covers a larger area immediately beyond the primary zone extending the arc to about 20 inches (50 cms).

Items in this area should be things you will need occasionally and so may include items like your phone, copy holders, paperwork you plan to work with at some point during the day. Although having less frequent use they can still be reached reasonably easily.

Rarely Used Things

Anything you rarely use can be placed outside the primary and secondary areas. If you have a large desk it could be items like filing trays or maybe a desktop scanner.

Putting It All Together

For the next couple of days make a conscious effort to keep a close check on what you are and aren't using when working. Note them down and sort them into the categories covered above and then start re-arranging things so the most often used items are nearest to hand.

You'll find this will help you work a lot more efficiently in your desk chair and by minimizing stretching and reaching for things you use frequently working comfort will likely improve too.

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Home Office Chair Selection: Making the Right Choice

Do you spend several hours each day working at home in your office, or maybe work full time from home? If this is you then you need to be much more selective in the chair you use, because you don't want to end up with something which cripples you every time you sit in it.

Selecting the best home office chair depends on how much you use it. If it's just for occasional light use, say an hour or so a day then what you buy isn't too critical.

For people who spend significant amounts of time sitting at a computer their chair needs to be seen as a serious work tool, after all you wouldn't try to cook a gourmet meal for 12 on a disposable barbeque would you?

And it's no different with a chair, those long hours you spend sitting each day take a toll on your body and so it's vital you select a quality chair capable of giving you maximum comfort and support, especially when you have been sitting for many hours.

In the next post on selecting a home office chair I'll take a look at the kind of budget you will need to allow for to get a properly featured chair.

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Are You Relying On Luck When Buying An Office Chair?

People take chances when selecting a new office chair, they see a post on a forum or somewhere like Twitter or Facebook, where a poster says something like:

“I just got a new leather chair for my office from Staples, it only cost $79 and it's brilliant.”

A lot of the time the chairs being endorsed by people are poor quality, basic models with some flashy trimmings to make it look good.

So why do people sing the praises of these sorts of chair?

Probably the  2 main reasons, are first might be their existing chair was dropping apart so anything was going to be an improvement. Or it could be they had previously worked at their computer on a dining room chair or a stool and naturally any swivel chair is likely to seem like a major improvement.

The truth is that an office chair is a very important piece of working equipment and needs to be well designed and have a good range of adjustment flexibility covering the users height, weight, leg length and sitting preferences.

Often these vital adjustments simply aren't included on budget priced chairs made to fit a price band rather than their user and so only cover very basic things like height adjustment.

The person posting about how wonderful the chair they just bought is may just be lucky it was a very good match to their size, height and leg length.

Such a chair may very well be totally unsuitable for someone else of a different build, height or weight and who could well be bitterly disappointed with the poster's recommendation.

Remember too, if someone had been using a worn out or static chair, virtually any new swivel chair is going to seem great at first.

It would be interesting to ask their opinion 6 months on, when maybe the cheap foams typically used in these sorts of chair have flattened out and become uncomfortable, or the lack of adjustment options have started to affect their comfort and posture.

By all means look at the chairs others post about, then check the specification closely to see if they include the essential features any good office chair needs.

Read product reviews, look at users comments on shopping sites like Amazon and remember sub $100 chairs are highly unlikely to provide a lasting solution for your working comfort and needs.

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