We sat on our backsides for a long, long time to do the research for this article, but don’t worry, we weren’t being anywhere near as lazy as that might sound, far from it. Indeed, how else would we be able to judge which is the best office chair out there? After all, except for a few special cases — which we’ll go into later — the standard office chair doesn’t exactly stand out. When it comes to buying any form of office furniture, only the most discerning and experienced customer can distinguish the good from the bad at first sight. Ultimately, we’ve decided that the Alera Elusion series offers the best dollar for dollar value as office chairs go, in addition to the all important improvements it may make to overall health. Studies reveal that those who are desk-bound all day long are 54% more likely to suffer a heart attack, though it’s important to note that this doesn’t take into consideration diet and exercise outside of the workplace. Still, for many, it can be hard to find time to be active, and as we’ll explain, this helped us make our decision regarding the most suitable chair.
Of course, there are multitude of options out there when it comes to purchasing a suitable office chair. We looked at this particular theme from the angle of both the individual buyer (someone who may work from home) and from an office manager responsible for stationery budgets. Overall, it seemed that a relatively cheap option in both cases would prove most popular.
However, for those willing to spend a little more, there were plenty of options. The one that stood out was the Herman Miller Aeron Chair. These chairs have been the most famous in the market for over twenty years, and for reasons other than good marketing. The Aeron is commonly known as the first office chair to have replaced fabric and foam with what is now the standard office chair format: a breathable seat and back and a chair which distributes your weight easily, thereby reducing pressure and preventing heat build up.
As well as enabling you to recline easily, the chair provides support at the base of your spine, making them a good choice for the most health conscious out there.
This is one reason we felt the Alera Elusion to be a more practical choice for most readers. It has a lot more to it than meets the eye. Sit down and you’ll discover (an affordable) chair with great breathability, something our testing reveals to be very important. It also features a waterfall-style edge designed to eliminate pressure on the legs and prevent problems, much like the pricier Aeron. The main draw, however, is the Alera’s adjustability, something many high-end chairs can’t boast. In taking price into consideration, we also thought highly of the Amazon Basics Mid-Back Mesh Chair. However, from a purely aesthetic point of view, it falls short, and though that is far from the most important factor when buying an office chair, for both the individual and bulk buyer, it is something to take into consideration. Such a large piece of furniture stands out whether it is on its own or part an office set. In this regard, it was somewhat lacking, but as you’ll see, there are good reasons to choose it as an alternative, should our arguments for the Alera not persuade you.
1. What do I need to think about before buying an office chair?
There are multiple factors to take into consideration when buying an office chair, but given what we said above about the amount of time the average office worker spends sitting down, we’ve placed emphasis on the potential health benefits of buying the right ergonomic chair .
One of the most important things to bear in mind in this area is adjustability, a key reason why we favoured the Alera Elusion. While most ergonomic office chairs out there offer a certain measure of flexibility for the user, some are better than others. The Alera possess an adjustable tilt system which can be left floating or put into a locked position. At 25” height, it’s also likely to be suitable for most people. Other important factors to consider when buying an office chair are: seat width and depth, lumbar (lower back) support, and backrest. While some other options out there may beat the Alera in certain areas (the Humanscale Diffrient is notably wider), the the sheer adjustability of the Alera Elusion (combined with its attractive price) means it covers all basis regarding back, leg and neck support adequately.
2. A brief history of the office chair
The office chair as we know it is a large, usually black object which, to workers even thirty years ago, would have looked something akin to an alien spaceship. However, its roots are no less distinguished and historied than any other everyday piece of furniture. The first of its kind is commonly believed to be the 1849 Centripetal Spring Armchair. Designed by Thomas E Warren, it emerged during the Industrial Revolution with a springing seat adapted to absorb the shock of train movements in railway carriages. One of the first chairs to use castors, it emerged as a movable work chair for multiple purposes, a revolutionary step at the time.
It wasn’t until the early ‘70s that the office chair really began to take off, not unsurprising given that this coincided with a decline in industry in America and the rise of office-based companies in the service area. It was an italian designer Ettore Sottsass who brought things to life with the Synthesis 45 in 1971, a yellow and black chair which rejected the notion that all office furniture had to be dull and formulaic. While it may not look particularly fascinating now, the design was revolutionary at the time, fanning the flames for future innovation in the industry.
The biggest change — and most relevant to this article — has to have been the 1976 Ergo, the first of its kind to take office workers’ health and comfort seriously. A great deal of research went into finding out how workers sat and what this meant for their posture and overall health, leading to a chair that supported the spine and didn’t inhibit blood flow, unlike earlier models. Three years later, the Supporto amped up the innovation with a chair that was easily movable and could be used not only in the office but also in conference rooms or other environments.
With the milestone of adjustability came further challenges to manufacturers to produce something new, both in terms of market appeal and functionality. It was German manufacturer Wilkhahn which engineered the three swivel axes that allowed the seat, backrest and armrest to all follow the sitter’s movement, making for the first time a chair which was fully adjustable. However, four years later it was outdone by Equa, a chair which was deemed the Design of the Decade by Time magazine. Why? Although it was easy to manufacture (it had a single body design), the chair provided equal ergonomic benefits for all users. Essentially, it allowed the person sitting in the chair to do a number of tasks. While modern office workers won’t find this much to talk about, it was a big change at the time, as designers had long thought of all office work as uniform, something which was patently not true.
The ‘90s saw a shift back towards style, with the relatively expensive Aeron becoming the office must of dotcoms around the world, a trend that continued well into the new millennium. However, it wasn’t until 2008, Italian makers Magis came up with the first 360° degree chair. The important innovation here was not the owl-like rotability as such, but the recognition that the workplace had changed. The chair was not designed to be sat in for prolonged periods of time, hailing an awareness in manufacturers that job roles are different in the new era, with workers frequently running off to meetings or standing up for a variety of reasons and at various times.
And in the second decade of the new millennium, the challenge seems to be one of — like in many industries — environment. While manufacturers continue to seek affordability and ergonomic benefits for their customers, they are becoming increasingly attuned to the demand for eco-friendly products.
3. Who should buy Our Pick?
As mentioned above, we chose the Alera Elusion above all others for a variety of reasons combining cost, look and practical use. First and foremost, many people find that they don’t like to sit in one position for the whole day, and the huge adjustability of the chair makes it perfect for alterations. Tied in with this is the fact that, as it is adjustable, the chair may be suited to those trying to improve their posture. That said, if you are having lower/upper back problems or pains in your leg, the chair is not the solution to your problems and you should seek a physician’s advice. Still, if the problems are minor, it may be that a more flexible office chair is the solution, in which case the Alera Elusion is a good option. It provides the same posture improving benefits as more expensive models such as the much more expensive Freedom Task Chair. As such, it’s more likely to benefit the everyday worker or office manager, few of whom can afford something quite as pricey as the Freedom Task, be it in bulk or as an individual.
Another benefit of the chair is its relatively pleasing look. While an attractive office chair is unlikely to be the centrepiece of any room (nor should it be), an ugly chair will be, for all the wrong reasons, A freelance worker who earns their living from home wants to work in an environment they feel comfortable in, and the office chair acts as the engine seat for a day’s activity. Those looking for something beautiful might want to step up to the next level but the simple design and elegance of the Alera allows it to fit in with almost any office environment. Those wanting something in between might go for the classic Aeron, which talks most boxes, but in general we felt nothing is lost with the Alera, which much left in the wallet.
4. Will an ergonomic office chair improve my health?
The answer to this question isn’t simple as it involves many factors and works on a case by case basis. The simple answer, if you are talking about serious back issues, is no. However, as mentioned earlier, a great deal of research has gone into designing modern office chairs, and not only for commercial purposes. Increasing awareness of the sometimes detrimental effects of office work means that most employers and employees are more conscious of the chair they sit in for long periods of time each day.
A number of health-related factors come into play when buying an office chair and in general it should have: good height and width, strong lumbar support (arguably the most important factor) a strong backrest as well as armrests, the ability to swivel whilst also being stable and finally, be made from a good material which is comfortable to sit in for prolonged periods.
Taking all these into account, there are a lot of things involved when buying an office chair. If we take the lumbar support, those suffering from severe lower back pain are not going to find that a chair solves the issue, as the problem is bound to be more deep rooted and will require other changes in lifestyle. This could be yoga, swimming, physiotherapy, or at extremes, surgery. However, if you have been sitting in the same chair for many months and have started to notice minor twinges in your lower back, most of the ergonomic chairs in this article could well help. Bear in mind that you will need to do some of the work, however. The Alera Elusion is highly adjustable, so it would be possible to adjust it to a position which is not good for your back. In researching posture, we found that having three or four-fingers width distance between the back of the knees and the front edge of the seat was recommended. Therefore, no matter how good your chair is, you will need to adjust it accordingly if you are to reap the benefits of improved posture and reduced back pain. If you are someone who can’t help slipping into bad habits, it may be that something less adjustable may be a better option, as it will gradually force you to sit in a better position. Some of the cheaper, more rigid options are actually better in this regard.
5. How we decided what to review?
Naturally, we weren’t able to review every chair out there as they are costly and, importantly, they take up a lot of space. However, with one in five Americans now working from home, and many more in offices around the country, the market for office chairs has grown exponentially, and so we tried to personally test as many as possible. With changes in office environment, there have been further micro-changes within the industry. Where once a basic chair was deemed suitable by most employees, with the emergence of the dotcom era and modern start ups, employees have latched on to the notion that every detail of an office can have an affect on the productivity of its workers.
Many modern companies take their employees health into consideration but also the aesthetic of the environment they provide their workers. All this means even the simple office chair is, well, not so simple anymore when it comes to the final purchase.
Given their cost, we weren’t able to review some of the pricier chairs out there, so we can’t say whether they are comfortable or effective in improving posture, and can only go on the hundreds of reviews we found attesting to such qualities. All we can judge on is aesthetics, in which case, chairs such as the Freedom Task Chair win hands down. However, choosing a chair based on look alone is a luxury most workers/employers don’t have, so we went down the route of practicality. How would a chair make its ‘owner’ feel throughout the day? Would it improve their productivity? It was with this in mind that we conducted our research, which is why the Alera Elusion came out on top. It was both comfortable and portable, meaning workers could move it into other rooms for meetings quite easily, whereas, for example, the Amazon Basic Mid-Back Mesh was relatively cumbersome and somewhat impractical for the modern workplace, where employees are often required to move away from their desks or have sit-down meetings in other rooms.
Still, it was the overall benefits to health that we focused in on, hence why we included the Markus as one of our back up picks as it encourages, perhaps forces, you to sit in an upright position. We even tried out a couple of kneeling ergonomic chairs to see if they provided any benefit. The budget option was extremely uncomfortable at first but became easier to use after a week. The more expensive Varier Variable Balans was more comfortable initially (though not comfortable per se) and also led to an improvement in posture.
However, the average customer isn’t going to want to sit/kneel in one of these all day long, and while we wanted to see how they compared, we took into consideration the general trend of consumers when testing and researching the chairs.
6. Our pick
The Alera Elusion achieves its position as Our Pick for exceeding itself at every turn (or swivel, if you will). Despite being a budget option, it does everything we think an ergonomic office chair needs to do. It’s minimalist design means it complements most working environments and will therefore appeal to office managers in any variety of companies, whether they are seeking practical uniformity or a warm environment for their employees. It doesn’t stand out, but as we said before, only those with money to burn can really afford to look for an office chair that really stands out.
We chose the Alera Elusion partly for its low price but ultimately because of its flexibility. The modern worker does not sit in one position for eight or nine hours a day and the chair acts more like a piece of elastic than a rigid piece of furniture. The chair stands up to, and often surpasses, its competitors with its design. Those who do sit still for long periods may enjoy the breathable mesh back and seating, both of which relieve pressure on the body and allow you to work without discomfort for much longer periods. Office furniture is often bought in bulk with one design deemed suitable for all, despite every person coming in different shapes and sizes, which was one of the reasons we chose this chair. Its height and width will work for most people and, of course, the adjustability makes a huge difference. Compared to the premium-priced Aeron or the Steelcase Leap, which some found uncomfortable, the Aeron has an overall appeal that makes it suitable for almost everyone.
In the modern world, we felt that the chair struck a good balance between realistic pricing, ease of use, portability and, of course, possible health benefits.
7. Minor Flaws
The only genuine flaw we could find with the Alera Elusion is perhaps evidence of its strong design. Put simply, the chair requires a lot of assembly, not dissimilar to a piece of furniture from IKEA. For us, this was not a huge problem. We review furniture all the time and are more than used to assembling (and looking for) various parts. However, we had to bear in mind that the average consumer doesn’t spend anywhere near as much time assembling furniture as us (lucky them) and it is true to say that the Alera Elusion can be tricky, particularly if you have no or little experience assembling furniture. If you aren’t bothered by this, then it’s budget price, comfort and flexibility make it a no-brainer.
However, if putting together furniture has you running for the hills then we would certainly recommend you try a chair that requires little or no assembly. It would be a bad idea to think you can put this together if you have tried and struggled before with home assembly. If you can’t find someone capable to help you or don’t feel able to do it yourself, then we would dissuade you from choosing this chair and suggest you look at some of the other options mentioned here, some of which require very little assembly. That said, if you can get help, the positives of the Alera Elusion far outweigh this one negative.
8. Step Up Pick
Our step up pick is the classic Herman Miller Aeron. The chair does most of the things the Alera Elusion can and for some people would be a more attractive option. It’s mesh seat and back are breathable and make for extreme comfort and the tilt function allows the user to recline if they are tired of sitting in an upright position for long periods of time.
While it might sound strange to make a big deal out of the armrests, the armrests on the Herman Miller chair feel natural, making it a more comfortable chair to sit in during long meetings or presentations. It also provides great lumbar support, which we came to see as the most important health-related factor and an area where many people have problems.
Why didn’t the chair come out on top? Well, put simply, we didn’t feel it justified its price, or at least, not when compared to Our Pick. It’s a very good chair, but given the strength of the Alera Elusion, we doubt many customers would be willing to fork out much more money for the Aeron. Moreover, it is slightly more cumbersome, making it less portable in the modern workplace or the home. Still, as runners-up go, it’s a worthy alternative, and as with any product, there will be certain people who find it a better option.
9. Budget Pick
Our budget pick comes from Amazon in the form of the Amazon Basics Mid-Back Mesh Chair. As with the chairs, it has a breathable mesh back which aids comfort and it’s generous height and width make it suitable for most users. The casters on which it stands make it easy to move around, though this will be dependent on how much office space you have. Indeed, the design makes it somewhat bulkier, and it isn’t as mobile as some of the other chairs featured here. Moreover, it is never going to win any awards for style and is nothing if not a functional office chair. Essentially, you get what you pay for with this chair. It won’t provide the same ergonomic benefits as the Alera Elusion, nor does it add to the decor as, say, the Aeron, it’s well worth considering if you are on a tighter budget.
10. Specialised Picks
When it comes to choosing a specialised pick, we felt there were two chairs to highlight. The first, as mentioned earlier, is the Freedom Chair by Humanscale. It is quite simply a beautiful chair, and those with the money to buy it will enjoy extreme comfort and elegant design. The headrest adjusts, cradling your neck for utmost comfort, while the chair has been specially designed so that when you recline, your eye level with the computer screen (presumably) remains constant. The chair’s design is one of counter balance. As you move, your weight automatically adjusts in tandem with the chair so that pressure is distributed easily without putting strain on your body.
However, for most (including us) the Freedom Chair is a pipe dream, and so our overall specialised pick is the Ergohuman Black Mesh Swivel Chair. As the name suggests, the chair has been designed with ergonomics taking as the key factor. While not quite as stunning as the Freedom Chair, it provides a similar level of refined technology, keeping pressure off your knees and lower back as you recline and move around. For those who want to spend extra on ergonomic support, we still feel the Alera Elusion offers value for money, but the Ergohuman has been specifically designed to cater for those in need of strong back and leg support. It’s a little bulkier, so it wouldn’t be great for those needing to cart their chair around the office, but for a worker who sits at their desk all day and is in need of strong back support, it makes for a great, albeit more expensive, alternative.
11. I’m an employer. Are office chairs really that important?
The simple answer to this is yes? As a manager or employer you want, even need, your employees to be as happy and content as possible. After all, it makes your life easier. They will work both harder and more effectively. Say you have twenty employees, and each is sitting in a budget, inflexible chair, that is twenty potential bad backs you face, twenty people with sore legs, plenty of people with bad moods. Of course, as an employer, you might not have the time to tailor each person’s chair to their specific height, weight etc. However, by setting a standard, you put yourself in a good position, increasing the chances that your workers will be happy. Just as you would ensure that the heating or air-con is on when necessary, or that you remember your employees’ birthdays to make them feel valued, you ought to take their comfort and health into consideration when making any furniture purchases.
12. Wrapping Up
We’ve looked at a number of different chairs here and we feel it’s safe to say the Alera Elusion comes out on top in almost every category, particularly when price is taken into account. Although it is a budget option, it provides great support and may well help those who have been suffering from minor back and leg pains. As we’ve said, an ergonomic chair is not going to solve any deep-rooted health problems you may have, and you should dismiss any marketing materials which suggest otherwise. If you can afford a better chair that provides greater lumbar, knee and leg support, then by all means go for it. However, for most, the sheer cost of a Freedom Chair or even an Ergohuman put it out of their price range, and the benefits that can be reaped from the Alera Elusion are well worth taking it into consideration.
When buying an office chair it is important to decide what you need it for, and also, who you are. Are you an office manager working on a tight budget? Are you an individual who works from home and would have to assemble the furniture yourself? Are you an entrepreneur who wants the decor of his or her office to be part of the company’s selling point?
Bearing all these factors into consideration, the Alera Elusion generally comes out on top and overall we felt it was both the best value of the chairs we looked at and/or tested, and one of the most satisfying ergonomically.