A lot of attention has been given to engaging the best talent to achieve this however, without a program to optimize the performance of all human resources, an organization cannot expect to realize the desired return on those investments.
While it would not be unreasonable to assume an average office worker performance gap in excess of 25%, even a 5% productivity improvement would represent several billion dollars in cost savings annually for employers. For example: An organization has 1,000 office workers and an employee attrition rate of only 9% annually. Even at a very conservative annual cost of $80,000 per employee, the employer would save $7,200,000 per year if they did not replace the 90 employees lost through attrition the first year.
First the premise must be accepted that there are correctable conditions in every organization which contribute to the performance gap. Secondly the factors creating the performance gap and the extent to which they are contributing to the gap must be considered. The three primary contributing factors to a “performance gap” are:
Ergonomics: The gap caused by work environment conditions preventing workers from performing their duties to the best of their abilities.
Proficiency: The gap between current worker capabilities and potential.
Technology: The gap between currently employed technologies (hardware and software) and available technologies which could improve performance.
Can Ergonomic services really help with proficiency? Of course. When employees are comfortable, there are many benefits, not the least which is productivity. Listen to the Ergonomics Podcast on this issue.
Take a look at this quick 1 minute video tip and see where you should be putting your computer monitor! Can the right monitor reduce pain?
“Finding Neutral” by Karen Wollgast
Our bodies are mechanical miracles. When you think of the engineering that goes on in a simple movement like lifting a cup or writing a note it’s really quite amazing. In human activities this dynamic movement causes our muscles to contract to maintain equilibrium or movement control. As we move body parts, a state of imbalance is created and our muscles work to counteract that and maintain balance. The ideal neutral alignment can be described as the line of gravity passing through the midline of the body like a plum bob. This supported position puts the least amount of gravitational forces on the body. As described above, our bodies work to bring our position back to a neutral state when we move, but often in the work we do we put our bodies in awkward postures requiring muscles to maintain static holds that create fatigue and imbalance. Postures such as pulling your head forward to look at a computer screen or reaching for a mouse can create static holds of muscles that were not meant to maintain those positions for extended periods of time. Eventually this can lead to an imbalance that affects the whole kinetic chain causing pain, discomfort, muscle imbalances and may limit movement and range of motion over time.
In order to avoid these issues, we need to be aware of what our neutral posture is and remind ourselves while moving, or in static positions to maintain neutral and supportive postures as much as possible. The University of San Francisco, Office of Environment, Health and Safety describe neutral posture as:
- A position of ease for the body to maintain for a prolonged period of time
- A position that supports the natural curves of the spine and maintain your body in good alignment
- A position of ease for the body to sustain with minimal effort
- A position that gives your body biomechanical advantages to do your work
- A position where the stress on the musculo-skeletal system is reduced
Finding your neutral
To get a sense of neutral posture it is important to observe ourselves while both standing and moving. In a standing position view yourself from the top of your head to your feet. Are your feet straight and equally weighted on floor? Are they pointed out or in, do your shoes wear on the inside or outside of the soles? Are your ankles, knees and hips stacked? Are you able to maintain and support the natural curvature of your spine? Are your shoulders floating over your hips and ears floating over your shoulders with the crown of your head reaching up? If any of these pieces are out of alignment be curious as to why. Tap into your body and notice how something feels if it’s in or out of neutral. What happens when you pull your head forward of your shoulders? How does that feel in your neck and upper back? Slide your ears back over your shoulders, what dose that feel like. Lengthen up your spine and open your chest, how does that affect your back, your breathing?
Now take a walk and notice what happens to your posture, are you able to maintain those supporting positions or do things come out of alignment. When you sit down, is your spine still long and in same position as while standing? Are you able to keep your shoulders over hips and arms at side of body? While moving, are you maintaining neutral position of your spine while bending or squatting? Is there any discomfort in your movements or static postures that you can possibly relate to your posture? Does shifting into a more neural supported position relieve that discomfort?
These are all ways to become more aware of our postures and how they affect discomfort in our bodies. I encourage clients to be curious about why something might hurt. What might you be doing that is creating that imbalance or awkward posture? Can you relate that discomfort to an activity? What is it about the way you are doing that activity that might be problematic? Observe yourself externally and internally. Feel into your body and work toward supportive postures to minimize external forces such as gravity. Below are a few tips to find and maintain neutral posture.
- While standing, stack joints over one another with feet equally weighted on floor, ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and ears
- While moving, maintaining that supportive position as possible
- Avoid long static holds of awkward postures allowing the body to come back to neutral support as possible, think of moving more dynamically
- Support repetitious movements with larger muscle support (whole arm vs awkward wrist postures) and micro breaks.
- Move, stretch and breathedeeply often.
- Strengthen core muscles, identify imbalances and work on building weak postural muscles
- Practice a wide variety of movement to keep muscles balanced
- Give yourself reminders to move, sit up straight, etc. until they become second nature
These are just a few ideas to help stay balanced and injury free in order to support the activities you enjoy.
True confessions of Hank Austin, Ergonomist:
When I do an office ergo evaluation I work my way down asking about the discomfort in different body parts. If it comes up that the client is having sciatica issues we begin to talk about their “seats”. I always ask about their office and car seats and specifically ask if they are contoured. I ask if the seats go up on the edges. When they do, there is the distinct possibility that that contoured edge is pressing on their sciatic nerve. People who sit with their legs spread out a bit can have their legs go over the contoured chair edge.
I once asked a chair designer from a major manufacturer why they contoured the edges. He said because it looked good. Any of you have a different take on that (I do know that there are contoured chairs with force mapping strategies and “hugging” the body features as well)? Anyway, I told him about the sciatic issue and that the contours (on this one chair) can twist the leg thus twisting the hip in the socket potentially also causing hip problems. His face fell, and he did not say much to that. The key is that all of these features are great- they just need to fit the individual employee or they can actually cause harm.
For my clients with major sciatic issues I suggest that they try to get a car next time with a flat seat and do the same with their office chair. In the mean time I suggest they get a pillow like a stadium seat (any color you want) and it can lift your legs above the contoured edges.
Ergonomics must be an integral part of your company. Specifically, it must be a big part of your designed Employee Experience. Sixty percent of all your computer users are in significant discomfort due to poor ergonomics. That statistic is robbing your company of productivity in the forms of presenteeism, missed time, poor morale, mistakes and injuries. Injuries also hit your health care costs as many employees visit MDs, Therapists, Chiropractors and alternate medicine providers. They are seeking relief from pain, tingling and numbness. Many even require surgery due to a lack of coordinated and focused ergonomics program. The good news is that the vast majority of these issues can be prevented with an engineered ergonomics program.
“The good news is that the vast majority of these issues can be prevented with an engineered ergonomics program.”
Peter Drucker famously said that you cannot manage something if you do not first measure. How do you know the extent of the issues in your organization? You must get good data on the depth and breadth of the issues your employees are facing. Only then can you understand the issues and formulate a plan of correction.
Stages of A Company Ergonomics Program
- Has no idea– These organizations typically have heard of ergonomics but think that it is a fad or a flash in the pan with nothing of substance behind it. Some feel that ergonomists really do not know much and are only trying to sell them new desks and equipment.
The reality is that top ergonomists have advanced degrees like Masters of Science or PhDs. They are engineers, Physical or Occupational Therapists. Many of these professionals have also attained advanced and accredited certifications like the Certified Professional Ergonomist, Certified Human Factors Professional, Certified User Experience Professional, Certified Safety Professional, Certified Industrial Hygienist or Certified Industrial Ergonomist. These certifications require college degrees, years of experience and two rigorous tests.
There are also many ergonomics certificate holders that typically attend a couple of days of instruction then receive a certificate for attending.
The field of ergonomics is science based and really took off during WWII with the design of aircraft cockpits. Before this there were many accidents and deaths caused by poorly designed control systems. Studies of the accidents made it clear that the cockpits needed to be designed to not only be easy to understand and make sense but to also fit different body types and sizes to prevent awkward movements, prevent injuries and accidents. These are the same basic concepts used in the modern field of ergonomics.
Check Back For The Next Part In This 5 Part Series!
5 Ways Ergonomics Can Save Companies Money:
1. Improve Productivity
It’s no surprise that comfortable workers who are not hurting will work at higher levels than those that are. Therefore, it stands to reason that ergonomics can save money for your business by eliminating awkward, painful movements. As you would expect, these issues increase business costs. Therefore, avoiding them by creating a culture of safety will have positive results and save money for your business overall.
2. Reduce Work Comp Claims
Another way ergonomics can also save money by reduction of workers’ comp claims. When workers begin having work related health issues it drives up business costs further through medical claims. By implementing ergonomically proper safety precautions, training, and equipment you may be able to reduce these costs. In fact, you could save your business anywhere from hundreds to thousands in medical claim costs.
3. Streamline Processes
Occasionally, ergonomics can save money for your business through streamlining of processes. When you reduce motions, steps, and exertion it can lead to process changes that improve work flow and time savings. Improving processes and operations of your business allows more to be accomplished for less cost. In addition, quality of the products and services offered may improve, further adding value to your business.
4. Decrease Turnover
To save money for your business it is always helpful to decrease turnover. Interviewing, training, and disruption of business services all cost money. Ergonomic work environments are one way to decrease turnover. Without them, as employees find they can’t work under stressful conditions, they may seek employment elsewhere.
5. Increase Moral
When you provide safe, comfortable work areas for your employees it shows you are interested in them. Knowing that you’re concerned with their safety and health can increase moral. Better attitudes lower the turnover as well as make for happier, more engaged staff. They will work harder, be more loyal, and have better work attendance. Ergonomics can help you increase moral which, again, saves money for your business. The health and welfare of your employees is an important part of keeping your business running optimally. As you can see, there are several ways ergonomics can save money for your business and accomplish that goal.
Paris Hotel — Las Vegas, NV
Professionals gather at the Ergo Expo to learn and collaborate on how to build an ergonomics program or maximize an existing program. This conference is a great place to network, see new products and gain education on the newest available options to enhance your programs.