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4 Ways Singaporeans Working Long Hours Can Keep Their Health and Sanity at the Office

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Joanne Poh

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Considering the amount of time Singaporeans spend buying and then renovating their homes, they don’t get to spend as much time in them as they might like.

Instead, long working hours mean that the average person here spends most of his waking hours hunched over his computer terminal, in the shadow of gray cubicle walls. So, it would make sense to put a bit of effort into making the office more comfortable, right?

After all, you might not own the seat your bum rests on, but that’s one seat you’ll be warming for long enough to make any chronic discomfort intolerable.

Here are four ways to make working in the office more comfortable. Your health and sanity will thank you for it.

 

Make sure your desk and chair are the right height

If you are above or below the range of what counts as somewhat average height in Singapore and your desk and chair aren’t quite right for you, don’t be surprised if you find yourself coming down with a bunch of chronic physical conditions after a few months or years on the job.

If you’re seated at a desk that’s too high for you, watch as your arms, neck and shoulder age rapidly. If you’re working in an office of dwarves and you’re too tall for the chair and desk assigned to you, we hope you have a good back and shoulder masseuse in the family.

You might not feel it now, or even a few months into the job. But slowly but surely you can expect your poor posture to take its toll. I have a former colleague who ended up taking a few months’ sabbatical because his body had been so badly damaged by his too-short chair and table. He ended up visiting a physiotherapist regularly—on his own dime.

If you’re on the short side and your heels don’t touch the ground, get one of those little plastic stools from a mama shop. You might also want to seat yourself on a cushion if the desk is too high (your arms should be parallel to the floor when you type).

Things are more complicated if you’re too tall for your office chair. Try to ask your company’s HR department for a new chair, one with a seat that can be raised further than those of the standard-issue chairs everyone else is using. If all else fails, you might want to consider buying your own chair.

 

If your back and screen are exposed to the world, find ways to change things

The worst seat in the house is the one that has your boss sitting directly behind you. Now, I’m of course not trying to insinuate that you’d dream of surfing Facebook (gasp!) at work. But let’s be frank here. As knowledge workers, we’re not robots plugging away mechanically. There are times we need to decompress, surf a few random websites or even just take a few minutes of time-out.

But not many people feel comfortable enough to do that while their bosses’ eyes are boring holes into the backs of their heads or reading every word on their screen. Occupy a seat like that for too long and you’ll find yourself suffering from higher stress levels and lower work satisfaction.

Many office workers stick a small mirror on their desks or by their screens so they can see anyone approaching from behind. A screen protector that makes it harder for others to peek at your screen also helps to alleviate your anxiety. If you can re-angle your desk so your back is no longer exposed to a lot of human traffic or where your boss is seated, even better.

Another option is to work on a laptop, either your own or one supplied by the company, and then take it to an empty desk, or a communal area like the lounge or an empty meeting room. Of course, this isn’t going to work in all office set-ups, but if you can get away with that at your workplace it’s worth a shot.

 

Make sure you’re not being killed by the air con in your office

Despite the fact that Singapore is so hot and humid, you still see people in office buildings wearing trenchcoats, boots and scarves. That’s because office building managers in Singapore have the strange habit of setting the air con to arctic levels.

If you find yourself constantly suffering from nose and throat problems, the temperature and dryness of the air in the office could be to blame.

The first thing you should check for is that you’re not sitting directly below an air con vent. Having the air con blowing directly on you can take a toll on your health. Get your HR department to speak with the building’s management team—they can usually get some workmen into turn off the air con vent above your head.

If you’re still freezing after that, make sure you’re armed with a cosy sweater or jacket and hot drinks at all times—if you don’t want to make frequent trips to the water dispenser, a thermos flask is a good idea.

 

Use headphones to block out distractions

Whoever came up with the idea of open offices is surely on the hitlist of every angered employee who’s ever had to work in one of these offices. While cubicle walls might look a little grim, they block out noise and give employees some much-needed privacy.

So, what if you’re forced to listen to the auntie in the next cubicle gossiping all day long about her son’s new girlfriend, or your boss has the habit of talking loudly and obnoxiously to his golf kakis in the phone?

Headphones and a good playlist can really help you to hang on to the vestiges of your sanity.

While you might have felt like you were constantly navigating in a warzone thanks to the anguished shouting of frustrated managers in your office, once you have your headphones (or, if you want to be more discreet, earbuds) on, you’re plunged into a world where only you exist, free from the ringing of phones and the chattering of inconsiderate colleagues.

Do you have any tips for making office life more bearable? Share them in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.