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Do You Want the Government to Pick Your Office Desk For You?

Posted on 26th Jun 2011 @ 7:46 PM

In the media, the private sector and the government are often portrayed as being mutually exclusive. But in reality, the government does oversee many aspects of what goes on inside the workplaces of private employers.

 do-you-want-the-government-to-pick-your-desk-for-you-image001.jpg  Okay, it's not that bad.


For instance, the government regulates employer practices which relate to treating employees fairly and equally. That's the reasoning behind all of the anti-discrimination and sexual harassment laws which are on the books. Also, the government strives to ensure that every workplace is safe for the people who work there. So all private sector employers must follow laws and rules which cover everything from fire escape routes to chemical pollutants in the air.

You may be wondering, "Where do they draw the line?" At what point does government regulation stop being about protecting workers and start becoming intrusive and overreaching? Wouldn't it be considered micromanaging if the government tried to legislate too much - like, say, tell companies what office furniture they must have?

That may not be as far-fetched as you might think.

In the Netherlands, workplace regulation calls for every office employee to have an adjustable height desk at his or her workstation. The Dutch government wants to maximize the ergonomics of every workplace and minimize the chances of certain office-related maladies such as carpal tunnel syndrome or back pain. Therefore, every employer must provide desks which can be adjusted to a height that is suited to each employee.


Your new desk has to look like this.

Can you imagine if the government tried to mandate what kinds of desks should be in every U.S. office? Certainly, there would be cries of inappropriate government intrusion into the workplace and encroachment on the freedom of the private sector. But putting aside the rhetoric for a moment (as well as the notion that much of the same benefits can be achieved with ergonomic chairs), let's examine the practical consequences that such regulation would have on American businesses.

 1. Increased business costs. New businesses would have to purchase adjustable office desks that have higher price tags than standard desks. Existing companies would have to swap out traditional desks for height adjustable ones - at a cost of between $500 and $4,000 per employee depending on the desk model.


2. Worker inconvenience. Sure, height adjustable desks give employees the ability to raise and lower them as needed. But here's what they don't provide: drawers! So instead of having convenient places for files, books, or office supplies, the "ergonomic" desks force employees to keep these items elsewhere. This may require the company to spend additional funds to purchase more filing cabinets and other storage furniture to address this problem.


This man has no desk drawers. Can you tell?


3. Worker incompatibility. Many employers have common work areas where several employees use one or two desks. Other offices have job-sharing positions where two part-time workers perform the duties of a single full-time employee. So would every individual change the desk setting each time he or she worked at a height adjustable desk? With the lower-priced adjustable desks, that may require clearing off the entire desk surface every time the level of the desk was raised or lowered.

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