[Updated: October 12, 2017]
Ergonomics – What it is and how it benefits organisations and employees
By TARA THIAGARAJAN
“My back is killing me!”
“My eyes are burning from staring at the computer all day!”
“I don’t understand this new software!”
Sound familiar to you?
Needless to say, these are all common occurrences at our places of work. Our bodies and minds go through these stressors due to many physical and psychological factors within our office environment.
These factors can be seemingly minor to us but in the long run, they can be time-consuming, stress-inducing, and physically strenuous for our bodies to handle.
This is why, especially in recent years, ergonomics has played a big role in shaping our working environments to make us more comfortable and productive at work.
Before getting to the psychology of ergonomics and the benefits of it, let us first address the elephant in the room.
What on earth is ergonomics?
In a workplace context, the study of ergonomics, according to the American Psychological Association, involves investigating a professional’s strengths and limitations and using this information to enhance the design of items and resources they use at work.
This is all in an effort to make work life less burdensome and more productive. There are many aspects of ergonomics in the workplace, but two of them will be the main focus of this article.
One aspect of ergonomics, perhaps the most well-known, is physical ergonomics.
This focuses on the human body’s reactions to physical and biological stress in terms of anatomy, physiology and biomechanics and how they all relate to physical activity.
Physical ergonomics typically involves designing items such as furniture, computers, and other tools used at work, while considering factors such as posture and anything to do with physical comfort.
The other aspect is known as cognitive ergonomics, which focuses on one’s mental processes like memory, attention span, decision-making, and reasoning.
Cognitive ergonomics mainly considers how mentally strenuous an individual’s workload (known as mental workload) can be, along with other things such as how humans interact with computers.
This aspect of ergonomics is typically used for designing software that is user-friendly in an effort to reduce stress related to figuring out complicated computer applications. Easy-to-read documents with large fonts are another example of this.
Wait! How is psychology involved?
Given what we know about ergonomics, you may be wondering, “where does psychology fit into all this?”
Experts in ergonomics devote much of their time analysing and understanding employees’ behaviour in the workplace. That is where psychology, the study of human behaviour, comes into play.
Once they understand how humans work and what the physical and psychological effects of the strenuous work environment are, experts will know what aspects of that environment they should improve to alleviate those effects.
Of course, it must be said that these effects differ for each individual in the same office space.
But these effects are all similar to a certain degree, especially if they are all linked to specific elements within the work environment.
So… why is ergonomics important?
Ergonomics is important in organisations because of its numerous benefits.
Improving both physical and other resources used in the workplace can leave us feeling less uncomfortable, letting us focus better on our work.
Using ergonomically designed tools can help reduce the risk of us contracting problems such as backaches, neck pain, and eyestrain from using the computer incorrectly.
From a mental perspective, an efficient and organised work environment that specifically caters to our daily tasks at work can give us some relief in terms of stress.
Even if the changes are minute, it can make a world of difference to how we feel, as we do not have to expend energy on small, sometimes unnecessary tasks.
Those small amounts of saved energy can leave us feeling less drained at the end of the day.
Yes, ergonomically enhancing the resources in our work environment can indeed improve our physical comfort and mental wellbeing.
Thanks to the comfort that user-friendly software, comfortable chairs and other ergonomic tools give us, we are able to focus better. Not only can this improve the quality of the work we produce, it can also improve the pace at which we work.
Apart from that, productivity can be fostered in the workplace depending on how elements of the office space are arranged.
This might interest you: Ergonomic Checkpoints
Activity-based office spaces are divided into many areas for different kinds of work. Some areas may be quiet and isolated for those who require a lot of focus. Other areas in the office space, however, can be open to encourage collaboration among employees.
Office spaces that are flexible can help each employee accommodate in a way that is comfortable for them to work productively.
An example is the Skullcandy office in Switzerland, which gives employees the freedom to move around to different environments within their office space.
Employees there also have desks that can be moved around and even connected with the desks of their colleagues if they choose to collaborate for meetings or projects, thus fostering productivity.
Ergonomics can improve how organised the office environment can be. Efforts can be made to arrange things such as important documents and tools in a way that makes them easily accessible.
Things can be organised in a way that can follow an employee’s flow of tasks throughout the day, which can reduce the time needed for them to prepare for a new task once the previous one is accomplished.
4. Employee motivation and engagement
Having a physically comfortable, organised office that also gives you peace of mind can provide you with the clarity you need to start and complete good quality work.
We would also be more willing to wake up early and endure heavy traffic every morning if we knew that an office that accommodates our physical and psychological needs awaited us every day.
An article in the Journal of Safety Research investigated the effectiveness of ergonomics in the office environment and found that there was an average of 87% reduction in turnover.
This shows that considering and making ergonomic changes in an office space can make a big difference in terms of employee engagement as well as their motivation to continue working in that organisation.
Sometimes, it’s the little details that tend to be overlooked. These minor points, over time, can affect our comfort, productivity, efficiency, and even our motivation.
This is why it is important to be aware of these little things. By educating ourselves about ergonomics, we can understand more about the way we work and how we can change things to better suit our own personal working styles.