I struggle to *sit normally*. How to handle working in an office?
July 13, 2017 2:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm perfectly capable of sitting in the normal, expected manner on a chair, but I never seem able to stick with it; in some inexplicable way I guess I just don't find it as comfortable.

On a sofa, I'll pull my legs up. On a kitchen chair, I'll pull one leg up, and maybe I'll just leave it there or maybe I'll half-kneel/sit on my foot, or I'll pull both legs up in a sort of sideways kneel, or sometimes I'll sit cross-legged. Even if I do sit normally for a while, sitting with one leg crossed over the other feels better than just *sitting* (I think this is normal). My favourite position for reading at home, or even for using my laptop, is very much in bed rather than at a desk. I like being able to lean backward and have my laptop propped against my bent knees (although I'll still change position reasonably often).

Now I'm working in an office (not customer-facing, but it's an open-plan office with colleagues). I have an office chair, the soft swivel type. It's not uncomfortable, as chairs go. It's just that I seem to be incapable of sitting normally for even an hour straight. I do all the same things as on kitchen chairs. I want to look professional. No one else seems to have this problem. Why do I find it difficult to sit normally for any length of time? Could there be some anatomical or ergonomic reason? And what can I do about it, whether behaviours or even particular types of chairs?
posted by tangerine_poppies to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like a standing desk might suit you better.
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:04 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just to add: I've always been this way, as long as I can remember.

And also to ask: it is probably inappropriate/unacceptable, isn't it, to sit with my (shoes removed) feet on the desk? I know senior professionals do sometimes do this (maybe just in their own private office though?) but I am new and junior and not in a private space (although our open-plan office is roomy and peaceful, most people mostly quietly getting on with their own thing).
posted by tangerine_poppies at 3:10 AM on July 13, 2017

Are you short? I do this because my feet don't comfortably reach the ground. Even if you are!'t a foot rest might make you feel more comfortable.
posted by kjs4 at 3:14 AM on July 13, 2017 [26 favorites]

I do the same. When I worked in an office it became much easier when I got a foot rest. Even if your feet reach the ground in your chair, get one of those ergonomic tilting footrests, you'll be more comfortable. Being able to occasionally move to standing position by setting my laptop on a filing cabinet was also helpful.

That said, once I started working from home I created my ideal set up using a laptop while sitting crosslegged on the floor, so that may just be how my - and your - legs are.

I don't know your office, but I would not advise putting your feet up on the desk. You might be able to surreptitiously prop them up on a side table or set of drawers or even a box you've kept for that purpose, especially if your desk has a modesty panel to hide your legs, but it should not be obvious that your feet are not on the ground.
posted by tavegyl at 4:04 AM on July 13, 2017 [7 favorites]

Conversely: are you very tall? I am (with my legs being slightly disproportionately long), and I find sitting normally to be super uncomfortable and try to never have to do it.

A couple of things that might help:

If you too are Leggy McLegs, try setting your chair seat height REALLY HIGH. No, higher. (Your chair may not go that high. Temping has taught me that office chairs are varied and largely terrible, but hopefully you can set it pretty dang high.) This is my current setup, and as long as I have excellent upper-body posture, it's actually quite comfortable. I keep my feet flat on the floor and the angle of my knees is exactly, or even a hair larger than, 90 degrees.

Other solutions: crossing my legs under the desk, or sitting so that one foot is tucked under the opposite knee. My desk largely hides this, but again, a big part is keeping exquisite upper-body posture. Back straight, tummy not so much sucked in as active, shoulders down, neck straight, chin up. Beginning a daily yoga practice has done wonders!

Even in my most absolute chill office I ever worked at (a young software company with toys and sofas to hang out on and etc etc) I would never have taken my shoes off and put my feet up on my desk. I think I did that when I was working on an archaeology project in a reasonably gross old warehouse, but literally only when I was the only person in that day.
posted by kalimac at 4:07 AM on July 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

If you are in the US, yes, it is absolutely unacceptable to both remove your shoes and to put your feet on the furniture in an office.
posted by stormygrey at 4:08 AM on July 13, 2017 [18 favorites]

I couldn't sit still and hated having to do so until my Pelvic Tilt was corrected.
posted by Homer42 at 4:22 AM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Are you hypermobile? I'm exactly like this and I think a lot of it comes from my joints/ligaments not being strong enough to support my body properly - I end up propping myself up with legs/arms and often overstretching my already-overstretched joints to the end of their range of movement in order to feel properly braced and not like I'm just gonna flop about like a jellyfish when I have to sit still.

At work, I tend to sit with one leg crossed on top of the knee of the other, the foot either tucked just under the desk or resting just on top of it - but I work in a place a) that is quite relaxed about appearances and b) where everyone already knows I'm weird.

Physical therapy has been super helpful recently for some of the structural/pain issues I've been having from being like this all my life - my posture is improving already.
posted by terretu at 4:27 AM on July 13, 2017 [10 favorites]

Along kalimac's lines, another suggestion is to sit perched on the very edge of your chair, with no back support at all. (It's hard to do for long if you're not used to it and definitely requires good posture, but it starts to pay off after a while.)

Getting up for a quick walk every so often might also help.

Did you have trouble sitting in your seat at school, or today when you go to a movie? I have similar issues, and I do wonder how much it has to do with both personal habit and lack of core strength.
posted by trig at 4:32 AM on July 13, 2017

I'm exactly like this. When I worked in an office, I did take my shoes off and sit on one leg (or sometimes even crosslegged) in my office chair. My desk had a front to it, so it was relatively inconspicuous, but all my colleagues knew and some were probably less than thrilled about it. No one ever said anything not were there repercussions that I noticed.
posted by mkuhnell at 4:34 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

it is probably inappropriate/unacceptable, isn't it, to sit with my (shoes removed) feet on the desk?

Yes, this is very much inappropriate and unacceptable. I would say taking your shoes off actually makes it worse, not better - I don't want to have your bare feet at my eye-level! Do not put your feet on the desk at work.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:41 AM on July 13, 2017 [12 favorites]

Depending on where you work, you may have access to an occupational nurse who can help with an ergonomic assessment of your workspace. At my company, I had several folks on my team who had back pain and other issues, so I encouraged them to work with the nurse- we ended up with some minor desk height changes, some standing desks, and so on. It made a huge quality of life improvement. There are a number of guides online if you don't have access to a professional assessment.

I've also seen some folks get sitting yoga balls- the constant motion works really well for them.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:19 AM on July 13, 2017

I work in an open plan office and have a similar discomfort sitting up straight. I have a stool under my desk that I can prop my legs up on, so that they are still under my desk, but they are stretched out and I am tilted back in my chair. I'm in a pretty casual office, but maybe something like this would work for you.

My stool is actually a filing cabinet with a padded top and it's about 8 inches shorter than the underside of the desk, so with my legs up they're just below desk level. It's long, so I can fit both legs on it, though because of the height I can't cross them and still fit under there.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:31 AM on July 13, 2017

I'm like this too; I can't go to the movies because apparently I drive everyone around me batshit because I'm constantly moving around, crossing one leg over the other, shifting in my seat, etc. My legs just seem to do it without my even knowing it.

Over the years, a few things have helped. First is yoga. I recently discovered I have scoliosis; whether that's from always sitting funny or I sit funny because of the scoliosis is unknown. But even 20 minute online yoga for posture twice a week helps.

Sitting on a yoga ball helps too, but my coworkers say I bounce constantly and am difficult to watch. Fortunately, I work in teaching so I don't have to sit still often.

Which leads me to the third thing--I just accept it and get up and walk around--A LOT. I go for water breaks and stroll around campus. When I go to sit again, it's not too bad.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:39 AM on July 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm the same as above, and work in teaching as well. I used to be able to put my feet up when I was alone in the room but was always worried about how it might look if someone walked by. I think it might be a circulation thing. Anyway, the foot rest is probably the way to go here and as many 'walking around' breaks as possible.
posted by bquarters at 5:45 AM on July 13, 2017

Not bare feet, besocked feet. And the layout of the office (spacious) means that often no one is sitting that near me, although they can see me from across the room. But OK! I get it - thanks for the input about that :)

kalimac: I am a very average height for a woman. So I don't think being overly tall is the issue.

Core strength and/or posture could be the issue.

Homer42: I might have a pelvic tilt. How did you get yours fixed?
posted by tangerine_poppies at 5:54 AM on July 13, 2017

This sitting issue often has to do with a relative lack of core strength. So in addition to the foot rest (which is #1) you can also try a small pillow to support your lower back/lumbar area in the chair -- somehow for me this support seems to make it less stressful to hold yourself upright in the chair.

On edit with your simultaneous update: yes core strength.
posted by flourpot at 5:54 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I was pregnant I had a small office wastebasket that I overturned and then rested my outstretched legs on.

My (self-imposed) standard office attire is black slacks and black flats, so I got some thickish (not mesh or see-through in any way) black trouser socks that live in my office drawer. On long days I will take my shoes off and put the socks on. My feet get a break from the confines of shoes but I am not barefoot. Since it blends with my regular attire no one seems to notice, though I don't flaunt my shoelessness (ie, I try not to walk around too much without my shoes). But no, I find bare feet in the office really inappropriate.

Nthing the ergonomic evaluation of your workstation. If you must, you can create a standing desk using boxes, as one of my coworkers has done. She works on a laptop though so it's easy for her to the computer up or down as needed. Ymmv on that.
posted by vignettist at 6:00 AM on July 13, 2017

Don't put too much stock in what's "professional". Maybe don't start out sitting cross-legged in your chair, but if you establish yourself as a reliable, excellent employee, no one is going to care if you're sitting cross-legged sometimes. I work from home now, but when I worked in offices I was often cross-legged in my chair and no one batted an eye.

Professionalism doesn't mean that you're a robot. Of course, there are limits to this--but in general a little eccentricity isn't going to harm you, as long as it's not affecting anyone else (this is pretty key.)
posted by Automocar at 6:10 AM on July 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think cross legged when you have a desk is fine. I also have done the overturned-wastebasket trick after my IT folks noticed and complained that my floor-level computer tower was all scuffed up with shoe marks from resting my feet on it (like you, I hadn't even realized I was doing it, oops!) A low stepstool would also work.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:10 AM on July 13, 2017

IT ME. Probably equal parts being a shorty and having a sad, strengthless core. I will definitely be snagging some of these tips and tricks myself!

My current "solution" at work is to put my chair up high, use one of the rolly chair legs as a boost for my left leg, cross my right leg over top, and use the edge of the desk to brace my knee against. It is...not ideal, but it does keep my shoes on during the day, and it mostly looks like I'm sitting like a normal person except for the "knee higher than the edge of the desk" part.

I tried a foot stool, but it was not high enough and it was DEFINITELY not wide enough, so I stopped using it. If you're anything like me, that's something to keep in mind when weighing your foot stool options.

I've wanted to try one of these little desk foot hammocks, but neither my work nor home desk has the right configuration for me to attach it anywhere. If yours does, this might be something to check out?
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:26 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Posture is important, but also moving around from time to time.


Microsoft has a great short PDF available.

Personally I moved to a standing desk with a standing foam mat or balance board and have felt much better since.
posted by nickggully at 6:31 AM on July 13, 2017

This is me (also a woman of average height.) It has to do with my back, or maybe core - not sure of the precise problem but having my feet on the floor in front of me becomes uncomfortable quickly and, like you, I will unconsciously find other places to perch my feet. Luckily foot rests are an easy fix. If your office is nice they will get one for you, if not, they are easy to find.

Also let me seize this moment to recommend my airplane life-saver: this amazing hanging footrest which for $25 (was less when I got it years ago) has turned plane travel from excruciating to just run-of-the-mill unpleasant.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:38 AM on July 13, 2017

Oh yes, I do this too, and I am also hypermobile, so seconding terratu's comment. You might want to look into PT especially if you ever have pain in your back, hips, or legs. Are you one of those people who's always just been really flexible? When you are standing normally, do your knees hyperextend a little?

Also, you know, it's just not natural to sit on a chair 8 hours a day. It's not comfortable for a reason, which is that our bodies need to move. A standing desk might be a good solution for you, I love mine.
posted by john_snow at 7:02 AM on July 13, 2017

Oh! Not so helpful with the sitting problem itself, but I have been using the Stand Up app for awhile, and it has been a great reminder for me to stand up and stretch every so often throughout the day. You can set it to whatever time interval you want, only on weekdays, etc. If you think part of the problem might be the long stretches of sitting still part, this might be something to look into. (But keep your phone on silent--the 'PING' is quite sharp and will probably irritate your coworkers in an open office space, haha.)
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:07 AM on July 13, 2017

I have a pelvic tilt and do this - my whole life. I sit indian style, etc. Even now, at 50, I put my left leg on the dash when driving. Legs down is never comfy for me.
posted by ReluctantViking at 7:09 AM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I too am part of this club, but I am on team "there are actually people who give a shit?" I wear pants to work a lot of the time (and the rest of the time I'm often in a dress that is plenty long enough to cover everything) and sit cross-legged in my chair. I'm sitting cross-legged in my chair right now! I have a bad back and a squidgy core (having had a c-section and just in general not having Abs of Steel), but I've always been like this, even when I was young and a good deal stronger.

An upturned garbage can has frequently served me well as an under-desk footrest/legrest, thing to prop a foot up on to give me leverage to sit with knees higher than thighs.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:30 AM on July 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Check with your office manager/administrator to see if you can get one of the following to make sitting at work more comfortable (you will need their approval, regardless of whether or not the company will pay for it - which they may or may not, try framing it as an ergonomic need for maximum cooperation from them):
* foot rest
* under-desk foot-cycle
* kneeling chair
* ball chair / balancing ball
* (google ernonomic chair alternatives for more ideas)

Barring that, it has been shown that taking short breaks every 45 minutes improves concentration. Try taking a short "office tour" every 45 minutes or so - deliver a message or ask a question in person, pop down the hall to see how R&D are doing, whatever makes sense in your office space.

Please do not put your feet on your desk, whether bare, besocked, or in shoes/sandals/slippers. No feet on desks. Higher-ups who do this are breaking office rules because they can - non-higher-ups can't. In a way, that's part of a power play on their part ("Look at how comfy I am just putting up my feet like I'm at home relaxing, I barely have to do any work at all - now bring me a coffee.") Crossed legs on your chair (chair permitting - see above re: requesting a different chair) is absolutely permissible. But feet on the desk is rude, regardless of who does it.

Hope this helps!
posted by pammeke at 7:34 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have never been able to sit "normally" for any length of time. I have worked in companies where they very proudly presented me with a special ergonomic chair that gave me shooting pains up the lower back, and I walked around the building until I found a better chair (not one anyone else was using), and exchanged it one night. No one seemed to care. No one cares now at my current company, where I have a milk crate under my desk and rest my feet on that or, more often, have one leg tucked up under me. Your coworkers will probably be judging you based on what you say and do, and not how you sit.
That said, if you are barefoot and have your feet up on your desk, that's pretty unreasonable in a work setting.
posted by Vatnesine at 7:35 AM on July 13, 2017

I don't have this exact problem, but I have back pain issues that sometimes lead to difficulty with sitting. Three things:

1. As others said, I don't put a lot of stock into what other people think. Sure, there are some lines I won't cross, but in general I sit however I need to in order to be comfortable and take care of myself.

2. There is nothing wrong with standing up and walking around regularly. More people should do it.

3. MOST IMPORTANT: Physical therapy is amazing. I strongly, STRONGLY recommend that you at least get evaluated by a good physical therapist. There might be some issue that's leading to this problem, or conversely this problem might be causing other issues. Either way, a physical therapist will be able to evaluate your body and how you sit and walk to understand if there's something that needs to be stronger or more flexible. As you get older, you don't want to get into long term pain because of bad posture or undetected problems. This doesn't mean that you will (or even should try to) get to a point where you will sit perfectly still for long periods, but I think you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not trying to come to a better understanding of the underlying physical issues.
posted by primethyme at 7:49 AM on July 13, 2017

I sit in three positions at work - cross-legged, with my feet up on a low shelf of the open bookshelf that's in front of my desk, or with one foot up and under me and the other on the rolly chair leg. I'm an average-height woman and even with my chair as low as possible, it's not 100% comfortable to have my feet on the floor since they don't quite reach all the way. So, I 100% agree with everyone who has recommended a footrest of some kind.

I don't think anyone in my office has ever noticed or commented on how I sit, but I do work in a pretty chill place. (For example, I have walked around barefoot when I've made a bad shoe choice and it's ok, though I agree it's gross and sub-optimal to take your shoes off at work in general. It was normalized in my office by a boss who basically never wears shoes indoors, I wouldn't do it otherwise.)
posted by snaw at 7:55 AM on July 13, 2017

I have spent most of my working life in open plan offices - people sit in all kinds of ways. I wouldn't bat an eyelid if I noticed you sitting there with one or more foot on the seat of your chair as long as you were wearing socks and your socked feet/shoes were not smelly.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:46 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

All of the other things mentioned, but I have low blood pressure and sitting like a pretzel raises it, so I always thought it was compensatory in that way.
posted by decathexis at 9:46 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I always slouched at work until I got a lumbar support cushion for my chair - I think this is what I have: Duro-Med Relax-A-Bac, Lumbar Cushion.

I second checking the setup of your desk/monitor/chair height. If your company doesn't provide an ergonomic evaluation, there are many online resources: e.g. 4 Steps to Setup Your Workstation.
posted by loop at 11:02 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's a sensory stimulation or processing issue, and not weak core / loose ligaments / judgy co-workers issue. Some of us just like to touch things and move about. Ya know, fidget. Flex. Reach. Tap. Balance. Explore the environment. It's not a character flaw.
posted by fritillary at 11:07 AM on July 13, 2017

I do this too! Have you seen this recent ask? Never ending need for physical tension in my body.
I read it and was like holy crap! a lot of the things mentioned check an awful lot of boxes for me.

I'm lucky in that I work in a very relaxed environment and no one cares if I sit cross-legged at my desk or under the table. I don't do it in front of visitors, and I try more or less to keep my bare feet tucked away and not visible (I have a pair of slip-on moccasins under my desk in case I need to get up in a hurry). I definitely would absolutely not put my feet up on my desk, but that still leaves you a lot of flexibility *rimshot*.
posted by yeahlikethat at 11:19 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

You say you're average height for a woman, but unless you can sit up straight in your chair in an ergonomic position with both feet flat on the floor, I'll echo that it's probably that you're "too short" - or at least too short for your chair, which was probably designed for the average male office worker. I solved this by snagging a height adjustable high stool with a built-in footrest/bar, which allows me to stay ergonomically aligned with my one-size-fits-all desk. A separate footrest might work for you too.

Meetings and lecture halls I still fidget like a kid though. Only my toes can touch if I'm sitting "right" in chairs.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:17 PM on July 13, 2017

I am five foot eight and need a footrest. It isn't just about your height; it is about the height of your desk, monitor, keyboard location, femur and torso length, etc. I would suggest reading a few different online guides for ergonomics; there seems to be more than one school of thought and I have gotten conflicting advice (but tried a few different things until I found a setup that works for me).

I do also totally put my feet up on things, but I am a crass academic with a closed door office so I am only annoying myself when I do. It's not so cool to do that in a situation where others can see (so look for a footrest or other socially acceptable foot location).
posted by nat at 2:00 PM on July 13, 2017

Honestly, I just discreetly remove a shoe and stick my leg under my butt. No one has said anything about it, and the sight of a single shoe hidden under my desk should not concern anyone more than my ergonomic comfort for 40 hours a week.
posted by delight at 5:04 PM on July 13, 2017

The Steelcase Gesture office chair was designed for a range of seating positions (and now can be had with a headrest for even more slouching and comfy stretching!). It's also Wirecutter's #1 office chair pick.
posted by rumbles at 6:02 AM on July 14, 2017

OMG, I AM YOU. I could have written this word for word. I have never been able to sit normally and I'm really self conscious of how I sit in my office chair. I'm a postdoc research fellow (so, quirkiness is tolerated and I don't usually dress in business-style clothes unless I'm seeing a patient) but I'm also really self conscious about my inability to look like a normal adult in an office.

8 months ago I got an under-desk bicycle (DeskCycle) and that has certainly helped - I mean obviously it doesn't look super normal to pedal under your desk, but it at least forces me to sit up straight and not sit on my feet or have a knee up on my chair. Plus people think it's really cool.

I agree it might be because you're short, by the way. I'm 5'2" with extra short legs and I think that's a lot of the issue. I don't have back problems or leg problems or any kind of pain at all, I just prefer sitting in apparently unprofessional ways.
posted by Cygnet at 7:26 AM on July 14, 2017

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