5 avoidable design flaws that’ll make you hate your office chair

Office chairs aren’t always a cheap purchase and our tests uncovered a number of issues, from hard and uncomfortable seats that give you backache to more serious problems that could put you or a member of your family at risk of injury.

If your current office chair is looking like it’s overdue for an upgrade, or you simply fancy a change, take note of the issues below to make sure you don’t purchase a replacement chair that’s a pain to sit on or potentially even dangerous.

Find out which models impressed in our tests by reading our in-depth office chair reviews.

1. Poor ergonomics

The proper definition of the word ergonomics is ‘relating to or designed for efficiency and comfort in the working environment’, so it’s hardly surprising it’s a term that’s thrown around fairly regularly when it comes to buy something like a new office chair.

Essentially you want a chair that will allow you to sit in a comfortable, supported position at your desk – not too close or too far away – with good quality castors so that you can move freely around a room.

However, far too many of the office chairs that entered our lab failed to impress our experts. They were concerned by issues such as the front of the chair rising up when you lean back, a lack of lumbar support and problems with seat tilt and depth.

Long story short, even if you see the word ‘ergonomic’ plastered all over your chosen office chair, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything positive. As a standalone term it’s prone to marketing jargon and mainly used as a selling point, so it’s worth looking to see if your chosen model has any additional information to back up any ergonomic claims.

2. Limited adjustability

It’s all well and good to come across what is supposedly a comfortable, ergonomically-designed chair, but unless you’re able to make appropriate adjustments to suit your body shape, you’ll likely find yourself regretting your purchase down the line.

As standard, we’d expect most office chairs to have the following adjustable elements:

  • seat height
  • Seat depth
  • seat tilt
  • Backrest tilt
  • Armrest height

If your chair comes with built-in lumbar support, ideally this will also be adjustable to help you achieve the best possible position. Some models also allow you to adjust the width between the armrests, which could also come in handy.

Some of the worst chairs in our tests had hardly any adjustable settings whatsoever, with the most common culprit being missing seat depth controls.

While this may not seem like a major issue, it does mean that if you’re above or below average height, you could have problems with the seat digging into the backs of your legs.

3. Comfort issues

Above all else, you want your office chair to be nice and comfortable to sit in for long periods of time. Sitting at a desk for around eight hours a day won’t be very pleasant if you’re constantly shifting around trying to prevent that dreaded feeling of a numb bottom.

In our tests it was very rare to find a chair that impressed all of our user volunteers equally, and many of the chairs actually split the panel down the middle when it came to comfort.

The worst models, however, scored poorly across the board. Common issues were rock-hard seats, a lack of lumbar support, and seat heights that were a bit too high or low.

An office chair can be a costly investment, so it’s definitely worth trying to buy one in-store rather than online so you can sit on it and check it out properly before you commit to a purchase – although it’s probably not possible to try it out for the length of a full workday.

4. Unstable/tipping risk

Up until now, the problems we’ve highlighted haven’t posed any safety risks, but sadly that ends with this next issue. Several of the chairs we tested failed to pass our front or rear overturn tests – and in some cases both – meaning they could potentially tip over if you were to lean too far forward or back.

While this might not sound too scary if you’re going to be the only one using the office chair, if you’ve got children at home they could potentially climb on the chair and hurt themselves.

To avoid purchasing a chair where this might happen, look for a model that will automatically tilt with you when you lean forwards or backwards – this will reduce the chance of any mishaps and will likely mean you’ll be much more comfortable too.

5. Poor design

When you think of something as being badly designed, you probably just assume it doesn’t look up to scratch rather than anything else. However, it’s all too easy to end up with an office chair with serious design flaws that could put you or other family members at risk.

We came across a surprisingly high number of office chairs with sections where fingers or thumbs could easily get trapped, especially if you don’t pay attention and think about where your hands are when you recline back in your seat.

We also tested a number of chairs where the edges and corners hadn’t been rounded off properly, so there were some sharp or rough sections that looked almost unfinished.

Additionally, any office chairs with upholstered sections (such as foam or padded seats) are required by law to have a permanent fire safety label attached in order to comply with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 (as amended in 1989 , 1993 and 2010).

Not only did we come across one chair that had a temporary label rather than a permanent one, there were three additional models that didn’t have a fire safety label whatsoever. If you find a chair that you like, but it doesn’t have a permanent label attached, do not purchase it – it does not meet the legal requirements to be sold in the UK.

Amazon’s Umi office chair

One of the office chairs we originally tested was sold on Amazon by its own brand Umi. We contacted Amazon in February 2022 asking if they had any recommendations of office chairs to test, and they suggested the model shown in the image below.

We purchased the chair through Amazon, sent it to our lab and put it through our extensive testing program, alongside 14 other office chairs. During the testing process we discovered that despite having a foam seat it didn’t have a permanent fire safety label attached, so we contacted Amazon to let them know and find out their course of action.

After temporarily removing the listing online, Amazon swapped the chair for one with a mesh seat rather than foam, meaning it would not require a fire safety label. The original chair we tested – with the foam seat – is still available to purchase in Germany. The majority of European countries do not have the same stringent fire safety requirements as the UK, so it would not necessarily be required to display the same permanent fire safety label to be legally sold in that country.

We have removed our review of the Amazon Umi office chair as the model we tested is no longer available to purchase in the UK, but should it become available again we will publish our findings.

If you buy a home office chair that has a foam seat, make sure it has a permanent fire safety label attached because it’s a legal requirement to ensure the material used in furniture for the home meets UK-specified ignition resistance levels.

How we test office chairs

We only recommend office chairs that are comfortable to sit on, easy to assemble and don’t have any unsafe areas where you might trap your hands and fingers.

Every office chair that makes it to our lab is tested by a panel of diverse user volunteers for one hour, to determine exactly how comfortable you’ll be sitting in it all day. Our independent experts also assess each chair to rate out how ergonomic it is.

Most chairs don’t come pre-assembled, so we time how long it takes us to build each one, plus we assess how good the instructions are. We also check how easy it is to adjust the chair’s settings and list any extra features it comes with.

For a more detailed look at exactly what our testing involves, take a look at our guide on how we test office chairs.

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