Are you sitting at your desk? “Emma” wants you to get up. Right now.
Emma is your “work colleague of the future,” a life-sized prediction of what office workers’ bodies will look like in 20 years thanks to the long-term negative physical and mental impact of increased screen time, longer hours and too much sitting.
Emma has sallow skin from too many years of artificial light and stress-related eczema on her arms. Poor air quality has caused swollen sinuses with more nose- and ear- hairs, and red eyes. Sitting at her work station set-up has given her a permanently bent back. Was she doing work while curled into a pretzel for 20 years? Free this woman and give her a vacation!
Emma is part of a 2019 report commissioned by office equipment company Fellowes Brands, who partnered with behavioral futurist William Higham and other experts to determine the health effects humans will see if we don’t make changes in the workplace.
Higham, who wrote the report that helped to inform what Emma could look like, called her a “worst-case scenario.” “Emma is what could happen to somebody in the worst case if they do everything badly,” he told HuffPost.
Higham said Emma has made people imagine the health risks more clearly. “When you start saying, ‘You could look like this. This could be you,’ I think people are more able to identify with the issue.”
You may not get a hunched back, but sitting incorrectly all day is bad for you.
Of course, Emma does not represent all office workers; we are not all brunette, white women, for one. She is an extreme representation of a stressed, sedentary lifestyle. Her creator is an office equipment company with a vested interest in your concern about ergonomics, after all.
Good air quality and exposure to natural light does impact your productivity and your ability to work without eyestrain or headaches, but you are not going to turn into a vampire if you have an artificial light.
Don’t stress about all the ear hairs you could sprout. But it’s true that sitting down all day is not great for our health. An analysis of sedentary behavior found that regardless of how much study participants exercised, sitting down for long periods was associated with bad health outcomes. One three-year study found that people who did not meet the recommendation of at least 150 minutes of activity a week had a higher risk of mortality.
“[Emma] made me think more,” Higham said. “I take more breaks than I used to. I stand up more. I’ll stand once an hour. I’ll make sure I’m not in the same position for a long time. I’ll take breaks from staring at the screen.”
Can you get a permanently bent back from a bad workstation? A lifetime of poor posture can be a possible contributing factor of a hunched back, or kyphosis, among many other factors like aging and osteoporosis.
Emma is a dystopian prediction of everything going wrong with your office environment without intervention. “It’s too late for Emma now,” the Fellowes website states. To that, I say: Emma, come sit with me. I’ll be your friend. We can strategize how to get you out of this job, stat.