What Is Ergonomics and Why Does It Matter?

12/06/2017 07:56 am ET

By Adam Mendler

While it may be an afterthought to many and a word some have heard but few can define, ergonomics is highly relevant to anyone who works. As a scientific discipline that literally translates as "work science," ergonomics examines how we interact with different environments. In modern business offices, ergonomic equipment is used to improve satisfaction, performance, comfort, health and safety. Ergonomics have been a central fabric of the businesses that I run: I co-founded and oversee an ergonomic office furniture company, we employ ergonomics experts, and everyone at every level in our office enjoys ergonomic furniture. And through our own experience and the experience of countless companies we have worked with in virtually every industry, I can affirm that by embracing an ergonomic philosophy at work, your staff will be better positioned for success.

Though ergonomics is sometimes described as the study of how equipment and furniture are arranged to enhance comfort and efficiency, the discipline isn’t strictly limited to furniture. From an all-encompassing perspective, ergonomics is about regular movement, effective software solutions, regular work breaks and good posture. And the study of ergonomics assesses positive implications when these attributes are addressed. Ergonomics is also about controlling your environment with reference to temperature, lighting, noise and humidity. Ultimately, ergonomics is the study of how people interact with their working environment and using the information obtained to improve efficiency and optimize well-being.

Ergonomics undoubtedly increases staff productivity, where happy, comfortable employees can perform better. Though safety professionals are usually delegated to tackle ergonomics, HR strategies have become embedded in the discipline, increasing the HR focus on work science. This makes sense because the benefits of ergonomics relate directly to HR initiatives, including productivity, employee health and reduced absenteeism. When ergonomic assessments are made, it is important to adapt work environments to suit the worker, not the other way around as is the conventional standpoint. We practice what we preach and recently partnered with a nonprofit specializing in corporate wellness programs. This included treating our employees to in-office massages from a licensed therapeutic masseuse.

There are several benefits deriving from the study of human factors, including reduced injuries from poor work environments, a reduction in absences caused by injuries and happier staff leading to increased productivity. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers prioritize safety in the workplace. To help create an ergonomic working environment, take a look at what you can improve. Start with workspace design, layout and function. Make sure chair heights are suitable and that they align with each desk. Provide foot support if necessary. Position computer monitors at a reasonable distance to reduce neck strain. Chairs should be adjustable, as should the brightness of computer screens. Make keyboards movable and locate commonly-used equipment in the most appropriate and convenient place. Make lighting suitable (not too blinding) and put items that are regularly used reachable without straining. Ironically, one of the leaders of our furniture business, who has a history of physical ailments, has been the greatest beneficiary of our team when it comes to working in an ergonomically-optimized environment.

Improving your ergonomics goes a long way and can be achieved in a cost-effective fashion useful for those who can’t afford to upgrade their entire office furniture collection. Regardless of your spending limits, you can make endless environmental changes with real-life applications. For example, if you use paper clips regularly, position them close by to avoid unnecessary stretching. If you don’t, store them away to free up space. Though this may sound obvious, it exemplifies a broader unfortunate reality: people do things that unintentionally make their lives difficult at work, which over time grinds away at your emotional and physical state. The more organized your workplace, the less distracted you will be by clutter and chaos.

The thrust of ergonomics is to create a calm environment to reduce stress, embracing positive lifestyle changes that are transferable to everyday life. Remember to take plenty of breaks, give your eyes a rest and focus on something else before returning to work. A quick break is refreshing and gives you relief from prolonged mental focus. Start by addressing chairs and other fixed assets before moving to everyday environmental factors that are linked to performance. Ergonomics makes employees feel appreciated. Show that you care enough to invest time and effort. Comfort drives productivity, and a healthier staff translates to a happier staff. By committing to a culture of ergonomics and following best practices, you will position your team to be happier, healthier and more productive.

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Adam Mendler is CEO of The Veloz Group and founder of Beverly Hills Chairs, Custom Tobacco and Veloz Solutions.

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