Exercises for office employees

This guidance provides employers and employees with information about exercises which may help eliminate or reduce and control risks from office work.

Move and stretch regularly

About every 20 to 30 minutes is a guide to how often it is helpful to move around. A couple of minutes of stretches every half an hour gives the body the change of posture and movement it needs. Even getting up for 20 to 30 seconds to pick up papers from the photocopier or get some water is a way to change your posture and give muscles a chance to recover.

Stretching exercises help to relax muscles that have been working and to move those that have been in a fixed position. If possible, stand up to do your stretches. As a general guide:

  • do a few of the following exercises a few times every day
  • make sure you relax and perform the exercises gently
  • do not over-stretch
  • stop if you feel discomfort when performing an action
  • remember to do each side

Neck exercises

Neck stretch

Illustration showing neck stretch exercises.

Image: Neck stretches.

Keeping your chin tucked in, gently lower ear to shoulder and hold for 10 seconds on either side. Repeat several times.

Head turns

Illustration showing neck turns exercise.

Image: Head turns.

Turn head slowly to look over left shoulder. Turn head the other way to look over right shoulder. Repeat several times.

Chin tucks

Illustration of a worker demonstrating a chine tuck.

Image: Chin tucks.

Raise the head to straighten the neck. Tuck the chin in and upwards creating a double chin. This also results in a forward tilt of the head. Repeat several times.

Check neck posture

Position the top of your screen at eye level.

Use a document holder directly beside or below the screen – it saves you looking down.

Shoulder exercises

Shoulder rolls

Illustration of a worker demonstrating how to roll the shoulders.

Image: Shoulder rolls.

Circle shoulders forward several times, then backwards. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

Check shoulder posture

Relax your shoulders and rest your hands on your lap. Bend your elbows to no more than 90 degrees and check the height of your fingertips against your current work height. If the work keyboard or desk is higher than your hands you may be hunching your shoulders unnecessarily. If so, try to raise your chair height or lower your desk height and try and relax your shoulders while working.

Wrist, hand and arm exercises

Wrist and elbow stretch

Illustration of a worker demonstrating how to stretch the wrist and elbow.

Image: Wrist and elbow stretch.

Interlace fingers, palms outward, and straighten arms in front. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat several times.

Wrist stretch

Illustration of a worker demonstrating a wrist stretch exercise.

Image: Wrist stretch.

Straighten your arm in front and bend your wrist forward, gently assist the stretch with your other hand. Hold for 10 seconds then stretch your wrist back and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat with the other arm.

Check hand and wrist posture

While typing, keep your wrist straight while your fingers are suspended over the keyboard.

Keep elbows at keyboard level. This may mean adjusting the desk or chair height.

Don’t rest your wrists on the desk or keyboard while keying. Keep hands suspended.

Rest on the desk between periods of typing.

Upper and lower back exercises

Upper and lower back stretch

illustration of a worker demonstrating back stretch exercises.

Image: Upper and lower back stretch.

Interlace fingers and turn palms upwards above head, straighten arms then slowly lean slightly from side to side. Repeat movement several times.

Back arching

Illustration of a worker demonstrating back arching exercise.

Image: Back arching.

Stand up. Support your lower back with hands and gently arch back and hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat as often as is needed.

Pectoral stretch

Illustration of a worker showing how to stretch the pectoral area.

Image: Pectoral stretch.

Raise both arms to shoulder height and bend elbows. Pull both elbows back slowly to bring shoulder blades towards each other.

Repeat several times.

Check back support

Sit well back in your chair – if your feet need support, use a footrest.

Adjust the backrest on your chair to support your lower back.

Leg exercises

Foot pump

Illustration of a worker demonstrating the foot pump exercise.

Image: Foot pump.

Stand up, holding the chair for balance if necessary, and alternately raise heels and toes. Repeat 10 times.

Check leg comfort

If the seat of your chair is digging into the back of your thighs, check that it is not too high or whether it is tilted backwards.

If the seat is too high, lower the chair and desk or use a foot rest to support your feet.

Also check the tilt of the seat and, if necessary, adjust it to a horizontal position.

Eye exercises

Eye exercise

Illustration of 2 sets of eyes, 1 set above the other, the top set shows eye movement from left to right, the bottom set show eye movement up and down.

Image: Eye exercises.

Sit up straight, face forward and repeat this sequence several times without moving your head: look up, then down, look left, then right.

Visual rest

Illustration of a seated office worker working at a computer. The illustration shows that the worker is looking out a nearby wondow.

Image: Visual rest.

Look up and away from the screen. Focus on a distant object more than 3m away. For example, look out of the window or at a picture on a far wall. Shift vision back to screen and refocus.

Check eye comfort

Is there enough light on your documents?

Do windows or light fittings cause glare or reflection on the screen? If so, try turning the screen or blocking the path of the light.

Use a screen with a light background when working with text. Software with a light background for text is more comfortable for the eyes.

Your legal duties

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, including psychological health, so far as reasonably practicable. This responsibility includes providing and maintaining safe systems of work and an obligation to consult with employees and health and safety representatives (HSRs) on matters that directly affect or are likely to affect their health or safety.

Employees also have duties under the OHS Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, the health and safety of people in the workplace and to co-operate with their employer.

Find out more about office work and your legal obligations on the WorkSafe website page, The Risk management approach to health and safety.