As our society continues to advance in nearly all fields of work, it is of the utmost importance that we continue to advance how we ourselves, as humans, perform the work in these different fields. How we work to complete our tasks directly influences our productivity. And in our society, productivity is one thing that can make or break your company.
To really understand how ergonomics affect productivity, we first need to define these two words.
Ergonomics is the science of observing and understanding the interactions between the human and other elements of a system, particularly the workplace. The result of this science is the ability to apply these observations towards designing a safe and efficient workplace in order to optimize human well-being and overall performance.
“Ergonomics allow workers to do their jobs. Do it right, do it safely, do it with comfort, and do it with accuracy.”¹
Productivity is defined as the ratio between output and input. This measurement tells us how efficient a particular company’s production inputs are being used to produce a given level of output.
“Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything. A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker.” – Paul Krugman, The Age of Diminishing Expectations
For decades we have known that ergonomics can enhance productivity. Research goes all the way back to the 1970’s and 1980’s. And the same basic ideas and principles still hold true today²:Avoid static work
- Avoid extreme position of joints
- Avoid overloading of the muscular system
- Aim to be at the best mechanical advantage
- Avoid unnatural postures
- Maintain a proper sitting posture
- Permit change of posture
- Match job demands to the workers capacity
A simple, yet powerful example of how effective the application of improved ergonomics is on productivity is shown in a study done on an electronic assembly line. Using a redesigned console to provide better ergonomics to the employees resulted in a 64% reduction in time it took to complete their required tasks and with 75 fewer errors.²
The way in which ergonomics provides endless benefits to productivity can be seen as a continuous, positive feedback loop. Follow me along on this loop.
Positive feedback loop
Improved ergonomics improves posture and the comfort of the worker, decreases pain, and decreases the risk of a workplace injury. With this improved posture and comfort, the employee is better able to concentrate at the task at hand.
The employee is therefore more satisfied with their job, not just because they feel good, but also because they recognize that the employer cares about their well-being. This employer appreciation is demonstrated through their willingness to provide better ergonomically sound workstations. A happy employee will continue to provide good quality work and increase productivity.
In addition, improved posture and comfort with reduced risk of pain and injury also results in decreased time off of work. Having an employee off of work can obviously hinder productivity and can cost the employer more money. But, improving ergonomics is one thing a company can do to help decrease this risk.
This positive feedback loop continues around and around, offering benefits to production levels and to the overall well-being of the employee and the employer.
Let’s look at these parts of the cycle a little deeper.
One of the main goals of ergonomics is to improve posture. And by improving posture we decrease risk of pain and injury.
Designing a workstation with proper ergonomic works to prevent repetitive strain injuries to our musculoskeletal system that can over time lead to long-term disability.¹
This is very important to consider given the fact that work-related musculoskeletal disorders are one of the most frequently reported causes of loss of work time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these types of injuries accounted for one third of all worker injury and illness cases.³
Ergonomics works to improve posture by adjusting the workstation to fit the user without the user having to sit, stand, or move around in less than ideal positions. These ideal setups minimize stress to the body, decrease repetitive strain, and keep the spine in a neutral, healthy position.
And remember, improved posture equals less pain, allowing the employee to focus more on work than their nagging ache and pain. The result? Improved productivity.
Many studies have demonstrated the power that ergonomics can have on job satisfaction.
Improved satisfaction increases employee morale, quality of work life, and overall retention. All of which ultimately increases productivity.
This is especially true in terms of long-term employee retention. With less time spent on recruiting, hiring, and training there is more time to be spent on the overall production, or output, for the company, while maintaining the health and wellbeing of all employees.
The employee is the ultimate user of the workplace and it is imperative that the workplace is designed specifically for the employee to be able to perform to their best ability while making sure their health and safety is at the front line.
All of this leads to increased productivity
It is obvious that in order to remain competitive as a company, ergonomics must be considered as this plays a large role in productivity.
By removing barriers to an employee’s ability to complete their job with as much ease as possible, productivity can increase.
What steps can you take today?
There are several different programs that companies can utilize to help improve their ergonomics. Plus, highly trained Physical or Occupational Therapists can come into the workplace to evaluate each individual employee and their workstation. This evaluation will provide feedback from a trained professional on what things need to be improved in order to have the best ergonomic setup, ultimately improving productivity.
Here is a list of things that you can change today in order to improve your ergonomics:
Adjust your computer screen so it is at eye level.
- Keep your mouse close to your keyboard.
- Adjust the height of the table or chair so that your elbows can stay bent at 90 degrees.
- Move your keyboard and mouse closer to you so that you do not have to over reach with your arms.
- Move your computer screen to a distance that allows you to see the screen without needing to lean in.
- Swap out your chair for an active sitting chair, like the Symbiotic Chair, that provides adequate support for your pelvis while allowing you to actively use your core muscles to move around freely, adjusting your posture as needed.
- Adjust your equipment so that you can avoid having to turn or bend your body in awkward positions in order to use it.
The most important thing to remember is that ergonomics can be an easy, yet worthwhile factor to consider when evaluating your company’s productivity. Ergonomics, without a doubt, will improve your productivity through several different means. Whether it improves posture, decreasing pain, improves concentration, or improves employee satisfaction, you cannot go wrong by addressing each and everyone’s ergonomics.
Author: Adria Biasi
US based Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist