Even though we’ve all been told never to judge a book by its cover, first impressions can, and do, last. Your first glimpse of someone you’ve never met seems to stay with you, even if you consciously try to shake it. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the workplace.
You know that confident, outgoing hotshot in sales who’s always well dressed and has the perfect poise? Sure, we all know someone like that. Sometimes we feel intimidated by them.
But think about it. Do you feel this way because of that person’s actual performance, or does it have everything to do with the way they look, how they stand, how they hold themselves?
As the recent federal election, and indeed politics in general, demonstrate, the way a person looks can evoke strong opinions about them, both good and bad. How do you perceive a leader who stands straight and tall? What about one who slouches?
It seems strange that the way someone comes across physically should lead others who have never even met them to draw instant conclusions, yet most of us do this to some degree every day. It seems to be a part of human nature – even if we don’t want it to be.
What does the research say?
Findings from an Australian posture and back study commissioned by Upright Technologies have confirmed this dynamic, suggesting that having a good posture is one of the keys to being perceived by others as confident, professional, and healthy.
The study, undertaken in 2021, revealed that over half of Australians surveyed view someone with good posture as ‘confident,’ while 43% view them as ‘professional’. At the same time, more than a third (37%) view someone with good posture as ‘strong’.
37% of respondents in the study indicated they view a person who is slouching with poor posture as ‘negative,’ while 34% view them as ‘unprofessional’ and 28% see them as ‘weak’. It should come as no big surprise that leading job listing platform Indeed identifies ‘maintaining good posture’ as one of its tips for appearing confident in an interview setting.
“Make your back straight with your shoulders back and your chest and chin raised,” Indeed tells interview subjects, if they want to project confidence to a potential employer. But posture doesn’t only affect how others perceive us. It also affects how we perceive ourselves. We can be hard on ourselves. We tend to notice things others may not even see.
And those things that others probably can see are often amplified in our own minds. So ask yourself: when you are slouching, with your head and shoulders hunched or stooped over, how do you feel? When you realise your posture’s off, what do you do?
Sometimes, we’re conscious of our posture because of how it makes us feel, and how we think it makes others feel about us. But much of the time we don’t think about our posture, only becoming aware of it after we’ve grown uncomfortable, physically or psychologically.
Just 47% of respondents in the Upright study said they think about their posture frequently. That said, most of us have concerns about our posture. The Upright research found just 15% of those surveyed indicated they are completely happy with their current posture.
Alarmingly, the research also revealed that 40% of Australians believe their posture has deteriorated over time. The numbers tell us a clear story. So do our emotions, and others’.
Modern life can be a pain in the neck
What’s making all of this worse is the way many of us work these days. Most knowledge workers are bound by computers, meaning we’re sitting hunched over a keyboard and screen for eight hours or more every day of the working week. I’m no evolutionary biologist, but I’m guessing humans didn’t evolve to spend a third of each day hunched over a screen.
No wonder so many people today suffer from back and neck problems. Way back in 2015, back pain was already the second leading cause of disease burden, accounting for 41% of Australia’s total disease burden, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
There is no doubt the continued rise of computer work has underpinned the prevalence of back and neck pain in Australia. As noted by the Victorian Department of Health, back and neck pain, headaches, shoulder and arm pain are common computer-related injuries.
In addition, the uptake of smartphone usage in children is leading people to experience neck pain earlier than previous generations, according to a study published in 2019 by researchers from various institutions, including the University of South Australia.
This trend doesn’t bode well for the future neck and back health of Australia’s younger generations, even when we don’t take into consideration the other factors at play here.
Have you done your homework?
During the pandemic, a lot of Aussies got the chance to get out of the office and work from home. You’d be forgiven for thinking that unchaining ourselves from the office would have helped the posture issues exacerbated by computer work. But this wasn’t the case at all.
For many of us, working from home may have actually made things worse. Once we got out of the office, we began using home furniture unfit for the ergonomic requirements needed for good posture. Working at the kitchen table suddenly became a norm. And necks across the nation creaked together in sympathy after long stretches staring down at our laptops.
The term ‘pandemic posture’ has joined the common lexicon, joining the likes of ‘tech neck’ – the latter of which refers to the issues that can arise from staring at a mobile device too long – to describe the physical outcome of working at a computer at home. It’s pleasing to note that since the initial onset of the pandemic, people have upgraded their home offices to include things like standing desks and other features that are likely to help to some degree.
Yet poor posture continues to dog many of us. With nobody else around, it’s easy to unconsciously fall back into bad habits. The Upright study showed that at least 41% indicated their posture was somewhat worse since they started working from home more often. But it doesn’t matter if there’s no-one around to see you, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, working from home won’t entirely remove the spectre of poor posture perception among others.
With the inevitable rise of regular virtual video calls with colleagues, there’s probably now more scrutiny on how you present yourself, albeit within the frame of the computer camera, than there was back when it was normal to have everyone together in person.
We are scrutinising ourselves more closely than we were before lockdown. Good posture is a vital in how we hold our head, shoulders and neck – all of which can be seen on the screen during a Zoom chat – it remains a core feature in how others perceive us, even from afar.
Fighting fit with technology
Clearly, not all blame for poor posture should be laid at the feet of the individual. There are numerous environmental factors at play, all of which are working in concert to push poor posture to the fore and normalise how it feels, allowing us to become increasingly unconscious of it. Although poor posture may not be your fault, it is your problem to solve.
Each of us has the power to boost our awareness around posture and pay more attention to how we’re sitting, standing and working. There are a lot of different tools out there designed specifically to help people maintain good posture. Unlike traditional posture correctors, the electronic varieties are often small devices that can be worn surreptitiously. These typically work to raise awareness around posture. If you’re slouching, they’ll let you know.
We’re often not even aware of bad posture until we become uncomfortable. The pain emerges from the strain that has already been placed on the body. With electronic posture correctors, you’re reminded to straighten up as soon as your posture slips. The upsides of this is that it eliminates the bulk of the physical damage that can be done by poor posture.
Of course, the other perk of such real-time posture correction is that you will never be caught slouching by anybody else –be it at work, in public or at home. Not only can you avoid garnering negative perceptions among your colleagues due to your posture, you can flip the script and generate positive perceptions among those around you.
Hitting a healthy profile
As the Upright study shows, 71% of people surveyed said they would view someone with a good posture as positive, while 52% of the respondents would view them as healthy. At the same time, 43% would view someone with good posture as professional. Clearly, the healthier you come across, the better people’s perception of you is likely to be.
But it’s vital to note that good posture is not just a stand-in for good health. The two are closely linked. Indeed, posture is vital to your health, as is movement. Feeling good about yourself because you feel fit, healthy and confident is a potent confidence booster.
A corporate wellness pilot program undertaken by Upright with Siemens found just this, with 44% of participants reporting an increase in confidence levels while using electronic posture correctors, and 66% stating that they could feel their muscles becoming stronger.
Physical fitness goes hand-in-hand with confidence, and your confidence – which can be demonstrated by how you hold yourself, how you behave and how you look – will often be the deciding factor in how others will perceive you. There’s power in your posture.