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I work at a small-ish company with less than 50 people. We have one conference room/board room that is used around 30-40% of the time.

Now as a startup we are very cash-strapped and as a result our chairs have never been replaced. We buy new ones when we need to but I don't think we've ever thrown one out. The oldest ones in the office are probably more than 5 years old at this point.

In the conference room we have ~10 identical chairs that are very much superior to the one I use 8 hours a day.

We don't have much of a culture of improving your work environment and people around me (programmers) often are stuck with 5 year old computers that are very, very slow.

So my question is, for my back's sake, is it ok to swap my chair with one from the conference room and if so, how should I approach this?

Edit: Wow I didn't expect so much attention here. A huge thanks to all of you!

Here's some more info:

Yes, the 10 chairs in the meeting room are identical but different (and superior) to most other chairs.

I agree that "Is it ethical" may be the wrong question here, and I do know that it is in fact, unethical, to take one of these chairs without asking. That's why this question exists.

After reading your answers I realize that this is a broader issue of our company where no one "asks" for anything and management doesn't proactively provide much. If I bring this up, it will be definitely setting precedent in the company. Maybe that is for another question but I'll throw it out here first: Are there any risks for me to try to set this precedent in the company?

Last(?) Update:

Thanks again for all the discussion and suggestions here! I've accepted the top answer and will indeed simply ask.

Thanks for all the other concerns as well, but the 5-year-old computers are sort of irrelevant to this question. To help close out some arguments though these computers are 5 years old and very slow, I'm not saying there is a necessary causal relationship here but that's how they are. I have nothing against 5-year-old computers nor slow ones but they do impede productivity.

closed as off-topic by Retired Codger, jimm101, IDrinkandIKnowThings, gnat, Jane S Apr 15 '16 at 23:39

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If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Apr 15 '16 at 23:39
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is it ok to swap my chair with one from the conference room

No, not without permission, a conference room is also used for guests, it usually has the best stuff because it's supposed to produce a good impression. So don't take anything from there without asking.

Are there any risks for me to try to set this precedent in the company? (asking for a new chair)

Not really, it's perfectly acceptable to ask for upgraded equipment and in some countries if there is a health issue involved the employer has to fork out for it. Depending on the issue of course. The worst that can happen is the boss says no, but in my experience there has never been anything else negative happen.

Things go sour when you're always asking for things, or if you ask for frivolous things. But your comfort and health are directly related to your productivity so this is a perfectly reasonable request.

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    If anyone is reading this while specing out a new office - this line of reasoning, while applicable, is a massive false economy. Make your staff comfortable and they will have one less reason to leave as soon as the clock strikes 1700. – Gusdor Apr 15 '16 at 8:32
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    @Gusdor I won't argue with that, but that is rectified by asking management for a new chair, not taking one from the conference room without permission. Conference room and contents serves their own important purpose. – Kilisi Apr 15 '16 at 8:42
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    @Gusdor - if anyone is reading this while speccing out a new office, they should hopefully recognise that encouraging your staff to stay late isn't the best way to get the best work out of them anyway. Still, give them comfortable chairs – Jon Story Apr 15 '16 at 15:06
  • @JonStory the point I was trying to make is that they will enjoy their time at work and Happy is productive I phrased it badly. – Gusdor Apr 15 '16 at 15:23
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    A proper conference room chair is good but inferior to (less adjustable than) a worker's task chair. That way you don't have to spend too much time adjusting the chairs during meetings. – joeforker Apr 15 '16 at 15:28
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Let your manager know what's going on. In fact, put it in writing for your own records. It's the employer's responsibility to make a safe work environment for you. And back problems are no laughing matter whatsoever.

You want to avoid a situation where it becomes so bad that you have to pursue a workers comp claim. Without ample documentation from you, the employer may try to discount it.

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So my question is, for my back's sake, is it ok to swap my chair with one from the conference room and if so, how should I approach this?

So let's see...

There are 10 identical chairs in a conference room. Since this is 10 identical chairs, and not just a random collection, we have to assume that someone wants all the chairs to look the same. Most likely, they want the conference room to look nice for meetings and for visitors. That seems reasonable.

You are proposing taking your chair which you don't like, and swapping it for one of the conference room chairs. You would end up with a more comfortable chair, and presumably a more comfortable back. But now the conference room would have 9 identical chairs, and one ugly duckling. It seems reasonable to assume that isn't what management wanted when they purchased the 10 identical chairs.

Now, let's assume your coworkers notice what you have done, and take it upon themselves to raid the conference room of chairs as well. You could end up with 10 mismatched chairs. It's unlikely this is what management wants.

So, it seems reasonable to me that you already know it's not okay to do this on your own.

But, why not just go to management and ask if you can swap your chair for the one you have your eyes on in the conference room? If you are hesitant to do that, then I suspect you know in your heart that this wouldn't be okay.

You would be better served by talking to your boss, indicating that your current chair is uncomfortable for you back, and seeing if he or she can help come up with a more appropriate solution than raiding the conference rooms.

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Depending on culture and country. Here in the Netherlands if you were to complain about bad chairs, your employer would have to buy you a new chair, and most of the costs would be paid by government.

I'd suggest you'd talk to HR or whoever goes about this stuff, especially if you back hurts. If not, consider switching jobs or buying your own chair.

You should not take a chair from a conference room unless it's only used by in-house staff and they agree to you taking it. However I'm pretty sure your colleagues will follow suit and chaos will commence.

  • Buying your own chair could be a problem too. I got yelled at once for buying my own keyboard and mouse despite asking about it several times. My mouse completed died and my keyboard was nasty when I started and 3 years later barely working. – Lucas Holt Apr 15 '16 at 21:52
  • Stupid question, but can't you just switch jobs if they're behing inhumane? – Mathijs Apr 18 '16 at 8:41
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Just let your manager know that you are finding your current chair uncomfortable and ask if you could use one from the conference room.

I do not see any reason for him to turn you down.

You could add that, in the event of guests, you could swap back for that period.

  • "Just ask your manager that you current chair you are finding uncomfortable" ? – Lamar Latrell Apr 15 '16 at 7:49
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    two reasons it would/should probably be turned down. Firstly wear and tear on the seat, which is probably part of a set and is supposed to create a good impression for visitors, consultants etc,.. Secondly it sets a precedent, wouldn't be long before everyone had a sore back and there were no chairs left in the conference room. – Kilisi Apr 15 '16 at 8:07
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    @Kilisi well, that might help to persuade management that they should just get everyone decent chairs. – nekomatic Apr 15 '16 at 8:59
  • @Kilisi - I wonder what you get up to on an office chair? – Ed Heal Apr 15 '16 at 9:39
  • @EdHeal swing around mostly, sometimes scoot across the floor if it's got wheels. I actually have an old much rewelded one at my desk and a barstool I made myself at my workbench which I also made, but I don't spend 8 hours on them. – Kilisi Apr 15 '16 at 9:47
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It is not unethical to ask if you can take a chair from the conference room, and do so after you have asked. If your office is small enough that the number of people in need of good chairs is greater than the need for a well-stocked conference room, then you might even get the chair.

It is not ever 'ethical' to simply take something without asking or without permission. If your company culture is such that taking a chair from the conference room would implicitly be allowed, that would be a different story. If you don't notice anyone doing it, or if you have doubt that it would be allowed, then that permission is probably not implied, and you should not take the chair.

As several other people have already pointed out, the way to get better chairs for the office is to take it up with management and tell them that your chairs are uncomfortable - preferably before they order new ones, not after, because once they've ordered and received new office chairs, it is far too late, and you probably won't be getting more comfortable ones until the old ones are used up.

It still doesn't hurt to ask - in a small start-up environment, the management hierarchy may be short enough that you can make this problem known, and have the managers invest in better comfort for their workers in the future. But if, as you said, they are cash-strapped, then they're most likely trying to invest money in places that will make them more money (conference room) and may have to put off your request for a later date.

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    I think it's a little extreme to always call it unethical and stealing. Some of this depends on the workplace and its culture. At some jobs, swiping a departing colleague's stuff is a time-honored tradition. At others, touching someone else's desk could be cause for disciplinary action. – Zach Lipton Apr 15 '16 at 15:37
  • @ZachLipton It is unethical and stealing if you do not have permission. If your workplace culture is such that the permission is strongly implied enough that you can take it without asking, then you do have permission to take it. – Zibbobz Apr 15 '16 at 16:52
  • In one past work environment, taking a company chair from a conference room for use within the same company was no big deal, even without permission. Calling it unethical in that environment would be ridiculous. – donjuedo Apr 15 '16 at 18:41
  • @donjuedo Again, if taking a chair is permissible by your company's own culture, it's permitted. Since this is such a point of contention, I'll edit my answer to make this clear. – Zibbobz Apr 15 '16 at 18:44
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Very interesting update.

I'd say that you would be doing your coworkers and thus the company a favour by setting this precedent. People shouldn't be working with 5 year old computers as much as people shouldn't be sitting on uncomfortable chairs 8 hours a day.

My suggestion is to find a good time to bring this up, or even find backup amongst your coworkers who may also need a new chair.

Gathering up a "crew" and raising the issue together may take off some of the pressure from doing this yourself.

I believe that in the long run this will benefit yourself and the company. Good luck!

  • Thanks for the downvote but can you comment on why you downvoted? – Jack Apr 15 '16 at 14:25
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If there is no posted policy for taking chairs then take the chair. It's a common area and it's not leaving the company. No harm whatsoever, the early bird gets the worm.

It's up to your company to set policy and until they do it's YOUR DESCRETION (within reason).

If they complain, return the chair. If they INQUIRE, ask them what their policy is before just ruining your back.

Remember, as a developer - YOU ARE THE MAJOR TALENT. They need to support YOU, not the other way around.

  • Although I getter broader issue -- they need to provide you with adequate tools and facilities -- I don't agree with this approach; I think it is unnecessarily passive aggressive. You know you're doing something transgressive, and daring them to challenge you. Rather just ask. "Hi boss. The chair in using is very old, and has been hurting my back. Is there any way I can get a better chair please?" – MealyPotatoes Apr 15 '16 at 16:48

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