Although very few businesses overtly EXPECT women to wear heels to work, we do anyway. Heels have a way of making us look taller and leaner, and who can resist the urge to self-promote? (Turns out, many people, all smarter than I.)
A little-noticed section of Bill 148 (Schedule 3) actually prohibits employers from requiring employees to wear heels, except for some specific performance-type jobs. (I’m guessing if you’re a female actor on-set at Mad Men, you’ll be in heels.) This provision came into effect in November, 2017. Our great grandchildren will undoubtedly think it’s hilarious that their grandmothers could actually be forced to wear 4” stilettos, prior to that date. They might find 4” stilettos as archaic as we find corsets. Note that “prohibiting employers from requiring heels” is not the same as “prohibiting heels”. We’re not there, yet. (So maybe my blog title was a bit misleading…or forward thinking.)
Are high heels “ergonomic”? (Do they enhance the performance of work, in any way?) To answer that, we might ask, “What do heels do to the human body?” I set out to find research to support the advice of most sensible people, but I found remarkably little. The research is reasonably consistent in supporting that high heels:
- cause higher muscle loads in the lower back while walking https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0169814101000385
- cause higher muscle loads in the shins (tibialis anterior) while walking https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0169814101000385
- are associated with a higher risk of slips and falls https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0925753594000558
Pretty much everything else I could find was anecdotal, but still quite convincing:
- Heels, and pointy-toed shoes, squish our feet into unnatural shapes, and that, like a grouchy face, if held long enough, it might stick. Some research suggests that they lead to bunions.
- They’re hard on the back.
- Virtually everyone who has worn heels would agree that they are less comfortable than a flat, supportive shoe; a high heeled shoe creates points of high pressure on the foot, whereas a flatter-soled shoe spreads the pressure over the foot more evenly.
- It follows that, if your feet hurt, you’ll be less likely to stand and to walk, which would in turn lead to more sedentary tendencies. A woman who insists on a 4” heel would be a poor candidate for a sit/stand workstation.
If you’re looking for a way to improve comfort, performance, and the quality of work produced, encourage people to choose flat, supportive footwear to work. Everyone should be able to wiggle their toes during the day, preferably without taking off their shoes.
If you’re trying to encourage employees to make better use of sit/stand workstations, our “ergo evolution” awareness package includes an entire module on footwear.