With all the buzz around employee engagement these days, and the role of quality employee experiences in promoting the same, the corporate world is looking into every little aspect of ergonomics as well. The objective is to ensure that employees stay healthy and happy. Because happy employees are more engaged.
Ergonomics along with workspaces designed with ample thought go a long way in ensuring the well-being of the employees, and hence, high productivity.
Corporate houses across the globe are relying on technological innovation to enhance employee and client experience.
It is observed that organisations that follow and sustain proper ergonomic processes not only report fewer injuries and illnesses than the others, they also experience less employee turnover, better productivity, and a healthier workforce.
So what is ergonomics?
It is the process of designing or arranging workplaces, products and systems so that they fit the people who use them.
It is a science that studies the ways in which work environments and spaces can be improved to minimise risk to the physical and mental health of the workers. With the rapid changes and advancement in technology, the need to ensure that all the tools and devices employees use and access at work are suited to their bodily needs and functions, has grown manifold.
Research has revealed that lower back pain is the most common work-related problem that affects a person’s wellness. That is why, we see the increasing use of ergonomic office chairs. These are designed to ensure comfortable seating for the users, based on their body size, muscles, strength, nature of work, and so on. Now, if we extend this thoughtfulness to all other aspects of the workplace, we will end up making the environment comfortable and ergonomically sound.
The main aim of ergonomics is to ensure optimum human performance. If followed and implemented properly, ergonomics can definitely improve employee well-being and also business performance.
So how do we go about making the workplace ergonomically sound?
Look at every aspect of the work and workspace keeping in mind ergonomic principles:
(i) Observe the postures of the employees: You will know an awkward posture from a neutral one at first sight. In a neutral posture, an employee’s body is aligned and well balanced, whether she/he is standing, sitting, talking, drinking or eating. The joints are aligned and there is no stress on any particular part of the body, muscle or joint. An awkward posture will obviously be just the opposite, stressing the body and injuring the muscles and skeletal system, often resulting in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) over a period of time.
(ii) Provide ample space: Ensure that the employees have ample space on their tables to rest their elbows while working on their laptops or desktops. Workstations should have sufficient space for employees to stand up and stretch from time to time. The height of the chair should be adjustable so that the monitor is at eye level and the employee is comfortable and does not experience any strain on the arms, neck or back. In the longer run, conditions like spondilytis and back pain can be avoided.
(iii) Encourage your employees to stretch: Stretching can be made part of the office routine. Encourage your employees to take a break every couple of hours to stretch, especially their shoulders and backs. They can be told to do squats and also stretch out their fingers, legs and wrists.
(iv) Avoid continuous contact: Stress can also result from repeated and continuous contact with a rough surface, or sharp object. People who use the mouse very often tend to develop dark patches on the skin, where the wrist rubs against the table surface. In factories and automobile plants and all, workers are often required to press certain devices, tools and handles with their palms or feet repeatedly throughout the day. This can put immense pressure on the knees, elbows, fingers and joints in the long run and cause permanent damage or scars. Again, the solution would be to rotate the job.
(v) Reduce repetitive motions: There are many jobs that involve daily repetitive motions. Such repetitive tasks become dangerous when other risk factors come into the picture, such as extreme force, excess weight, or awkward posture. Any job involving a cycle time of 30 seconds or less can be labelled extremely repetitive. This is where job rotation needs to be considered.
(vi) Provide adequate light: Very bright rooms and very dimly lit rooms are both bad for the eyes. Too much glare can cause the eyes to get tired and even result in headaches. Similarly, dimly lit rooms put pressure on the eyes of the workers. Ensure that the lighting is adjustable, and so is the glare from the screen (in case of computers). Monitors should be placed away from windows or bright backgrounds.
These are just a few basic ergonomic principles that can help to ensure your employees’ comfort and long-term well-being. And the truth is, most modern offices already practise these principles.
Designing engaging workspaces has become a priority for modern businesses. At the same time, workplace-related conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, MSDs, tendonitis, slip disc, spondilytis, and so on have also become rather common amongst today’s employees. What is surprising is that even youngsters are not spared.
With the changing times, ergonomics has also advanced beyond the fundamental designing of chairs, desks and lighting and all. With better understanding of the work culture and lifestyle of the younger workforce, corporates across the world are trying to provide completely immersive workspaces for their employees. That explains the growing trend of yoga rooms, meditation halls, and interactive relaxation zones, indoor plants, and so on.
Employers understand that stress or pain that affects the back, hands, neck, legs, knees or eyes, can turn out to be lifetime issues for employees and affect their morale and engagement levels. Companies are now aware that an employees’ experience begins right from the reception area, that is, the moment they enter the office.
Experiential ergonomics takes into consideration all the aspects that combine to offer employees an ideal environment to thrive and prosper. An ecosystem that offers sufficient space for individual ideas to develop and bloom. No wonder, today, ergonomics focusses on many things including the look and feel of the workspace— colour of the furniture, texture of the walls, lighting, the general ambience, greenery for indoor air quality, and so on. The modern workplace is designed to appeal to the senses of the millennial workforce— right from the visual and the acoustic, to the sense of taste and smell. Who would not want to start the day with the aroma of coffee, for instance? Many offices have coffee counters not far from the entrance so that the aroma wafts towards those who enter. There are vertical gardens to enhance the aesthetics and also ensure air quality, and automated blinds that open and close according to the level of sunlight!
Clearly, flexible and innovative design is the way forward. These will result in customisation of the comfort elements in such a way that the workspace becomes fit for the employees.
Remember, the employees themselves are the best sources of the ideal ergonomics recommendations. After all, they are the end users, and that makes them the right people to suggest job and space modifications that will make life easier and healthier for them. And what better way to engage them?