Managers now know employees are more productive when they’re happier and healthier. Thanks to basic ergonomic principles, your company can easily take steps to increase productivity and satisfaction.
Contrary to popular belief, ergonomics isn’t just a fancy buzzword for expensive chairs and wrist rests—it’s an applied science dealing with the design and arrangement of workplaces to increase both efficiency and safety.
Safety means more than hard hats in construction zones. Common injuries on the job like musculoskeletal disorders come from repetitive motion done in uncomfortable positions. Those musculoskeletal disorders include shoulder tendonitis, lower back strain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Employees with these kinds of injuries need three more days away from work than those with other injuries or illnesses.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2013 indicated one-third of days away from work are a result of musculoskeletal disorders acquired from work—and account for one out of every three dollars spent on workers’ comp.
The total cost to companies, the BLS said, was around $20 billion each year. The indirect costs, including resources spent hiring and training replacement workers, are five times that. (Source)
Maybe you think you can’t afford to implement ergonomics in your workplace. The better way of thinking about this issue is: Can you afford not to? The results more than pay for themselves. That’s in addition to the less-quantifiable satisfaction of knowing your employees aren’t spending a third or more of their lives in discomfort.
Here are three easy ways you can go ergo.
1. Do Get Better Chairs
Yes, there’s more to do, but workplace seating is actually a good place to start. One key to a good chair is adjustability. The same applies to desks, as well—something as simple as desk and chair height can have a huge impact on preventing musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome or lower back injuries.
You can also make access to standing desks easier. “Desk hacks” like this Ikea one dreamed up by Customer.io CEO Colin Nederkoorn are common, but if you want the Real McCoy, Corovan also has you covered.
2. Pay Attention to Ambiance
Now that you’ve solved the seating problem, turn your attention to what your office feels like. Is it dim and cold? Warmly lit? Do you have an open floor plan with workbenches, or cubes? Are your common spaces inviting, or empty? Ambiance is not just for restaurants.
Temperature is more important than you think. Research from Finland and Cornell University indicates an optimal temperature range between 71.6 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Color is another factor. What color to base an office-wide scheme on depends on what your employees’ energy levels need to be, but everyone in the field seems to agree: Avoid beige and grey at all costs.
3. Prioritize Employee Health
Ergonomics in the workplace is not just about comfort—it’s about employee health. Physically, that means reducing the stress on the body from repetitive motions and hours of maintaining the same position. Encouraging your employees to take even just a two-minute walk every half-hour can help combat the deleterious effects of sitting, which researchers have now found is associated with decreased blood flow to the brain.
For mental health, encourage employees to take breaks and use their vacation days. The average American worker takes only slightly more than half their yearly vacation time, and even when they do, they end up working on their vacation anyway. A policy wherein vacation time is strictly blocked off as non-work time, with no negative repercussions on the employee’s career, can go a long way to reducing burnout and increasing retention.
Case Study: A Simple Fix at Segment
A good case study for simple ergonomic fixes with big impact is the remarkable story of San Francisco-based Segment, a data software company. Segment was having a noise problem: many of its employees said they were having problems focusing on their work because of ambient chatting noise. Once the company gathered data on which areas of the office were noisier than others, they moved teams whose tasks required more quiet away from teams that required more vocal collaboration.
This simple move increased focus time a massive 45% to 60%! “In a purely numerical sense, you could equate that to hiring 10–15 people,” CEO and co-founder Peter Reinhardt wrote in a blog post about the experiment.