This excellent question from a recent discussion group raises lots of issues and is, it occurred to me, a great topic for a blog!
The short answer, of course is “It depends”.
The next “rule of thumb” (and incomplete) answer is “Probably up to 7 or 8 years for a chair that comes with a standard 5 year warranty and 12-15 years for a chair that offers a guarantee of 10 years or more”. These life expectancy estimates are not directly related to the warranty period but to the quality of the products to which such guarantees are attributed. If you have a short attention span, you can obviously stop reading here with the question (sort of) answered but there are many contributory factors which will significantly impact the durability and survival of products.
First, these indicative expectations may apply to a majority of products for general office use but there will always be a proportion that don’t stay the distance. Rather like a pair of shoes, an office chair will experience different levels of wear and tear, even where the circumstances look identical. Chairs used in hot desk environments, in particular, will not be afforded the same sense of ownership and resultant responsibility that would be attributed to a seat used by the same person throughout its life.
Another significant consideration is that events within the business may well make the practical life expectancy of the seating irrelevant. Office relocation, lease expiry, natural churn and smart working initiatives may drive replacement and refurbishment projects more directly than the actual life cycle of the products.
If you are about to buy new chairs …
Take a holistic view of the process.
In addition to the obvious issues such as price, usability, comfort, ergonomics, design, etc., check the warranty period for the products you are considering. As already indicated, warranties should be at least 5 years (in normal office use) but at least 10 years is the norm for better quality products. Also, check the warranty conditions. What is covered? Is there any routine maintenance that is required to ensure the warranty remains valid? Remember that the more expensive fabrics may actually be lighter duty and therefore less hard-wearing.
Consider end of life disposal. Cradle-to-cradle design may be your priority but think seriously about refurbishment options. If the manufacturer offers a rebuild/ reworking service, this can significantly extend the life of the product and may well fit your sustainability (and budget) criteria better than disposal and starting again.
Are you sure you know how many you need? With the growth of smart working programmes, it gets harder to monitor the utilisation of furniture assets. You may need less than you think and, if this is the case, you have greater buying flexibility within your budget.
Never underestimate the importance of ergonomics considerations in chair specification. The better the ergonomics credentials of a product, the greater the likelihood of buy-in from users. And, if they like their chair, they are more likely to look after it and report problems promptly. It is also reasonable to assume that seating designed with ergonomics at the forefront is generally better made and more robust (but the corollary does not necessarily apply!).
If you are reviewing the chairs you already have …
What warranty was provided at the time of purchase and are they still in warranty? Do you have a regular maintenance programme? If not, your original supplier should be able to provide one after an inventory review or, if that’s an issue, the manufacturer will be able to refer you to a reputable operator. If you prefer, they should be able to train your own personnel to carry out any maintenance.
Your DSE assessment cycle should have picked up situations where chair repairs or replacements are needed and tracking the incidence and nature of such situations will give you a good indication of the general condition of the estate. Many manufacturers provide a serial number under the seat so, at the very least, the date of purchase should be easy for your supplier to identify. Our own chairs all carry a 5-digit alphanumeric warranty label which identifies the date of purchase, exact specification and customer order number.
Check with your original supplier or the manufacturer about whether a reconditioning service is available for the products you own. Full reworking may require chairs to be returned to the distributor or manufacturer but, depending on numbers and available space at your location, components such as seat and back pads can often be replaced on site.
Most important of all …
Don’t forget about training your people. Making sure your personnel know how to adjust their chair (and why) not only improves their posture and resultant productivity but regular adjustment keeps chair components functional and identifies malfunctions and breakages promptly. As well as user training at the time of installation, intranet links, handouts and periodic reminders from your DSE assessor team or supplier are essential.
What have I missed? This is a big topic so I welcome, as always, other ideas and contributions.