There is nothing that affects productivity like an uncomfortable work environment. Incorporating ergonomics at work is a small price to pay for a highly engaged workforce.
How does ergonomics affect productivity? Ergonomics is all about making the work environment as conducive as possible to avoid injuries, stress and other long term conditions that may have an effect on the well-being of an employee. Without proper ergonomics, there is increased absenteeism and sick leaves which ends up reducing the productivity of the employees and eventually affecting the profitability of the company. For instance, an employee who is constantly experiencing back pain because of the office chairs will miss work on some days to seek medical attention which means that sometimes targets will not be met.
Through ergonomics, employers, as well as employees, can collectively brainstorm on ways to transform the work environment to be conducive for everyone without affecting productivity in the process. To better understand how ergonomics affects the productivity of employees in any company, it is important to first understand what ergonomics is in the first place.
Ergonomics refers to ways of adjusting the work atmosphere and practices to prevent injuries as well as mental stress such that the company’s profitability won’t be affected due to sick days and other forms of absenteeism. (We have written a similar article – what is workplace wellness ergonomics)
It is estimated that organizations spend about $300 billion every year to cover costs brought about by absenteeism and health care that results from work-related stress; a figure that doesn’t even include money incurred from lowered productivity when there are disengaged employees.
Most employees spend hours on a computer which increases the risk of developing backache problems, tension headaches, eye problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Both employees and employers can reduce these through specific ergonomics techniques like the positioning of computer screens more than 20 inches away from the eyes or away from bright lights and using anti-glare on computer screens.
Work desks and chairs also affect productivity in that, chairs that offer better support can reduce back problems. If you want to create a comfortable work environment that will allow employees to put in their best, there is a need to choose chairs that support both the upper and lower back.
Ample cushioning in the seats also reduces lower body and hip pain. For the employees, encourage them to adopt postures that prevent back problems like typing when their arms are at a 90-degree angle and raising and lowering the chairs to achieve the right and comfortable posture.
While loud sounds or music in the office may disrupt work, sometimes soft soothing sounds can help employees relax and reduce tension. You can install speakers in the walls or play classical sounds thought out the day to not only keep employees relaxed and calm but to prevent fatigue and help employees remain engaged in what they do.
Aspects of Ergonomics at Work
Ergonomics is very broad and involves several aspects that all play a role in the productivity of employees when at work.
1. Physical Ergonomics
Physical ergonomics have to do with both physical and physiological aspects of work that affect the body and how adjustments can prevent injuries in the long run. Physical ergonomics, therefore, involves issues like sitting posture, motions, keyboard design, and generally overall workplace safety.
2. Cognitive Ergonomics
This leans more on human errors than injuries like the shape of the knob and the right direction it should turn and how much force a keyboard needs to respond. It is about making things a little bit more intuitive so as to prevent errors that may occur and affect productivity.
3. Organizational Ergonomics
This is basically the workflow of the company on a macro level so as to optimize the company structures, processes and policies. Organizational ergonomics focuses on teamwork, telecommuting, work systems, and virtual organizations.
Ergonomic Factors that Affect Productivity
In any organization, there are several factors that affect the productivity of employees. Since productivity translates directly to the profitability of the company, it makes sense why employers should be concerned about this issue.
However, even employees need to concern themselves with ergonomics since as an employee, your productivity determines how long you will have a job at the company and also how much you get to enjoy what you do.
Ergonomics mainly involves fitting the work environment to the employee. It is usually done through efficient organizational systems or specialized tools. One of the most important factors that affects productivity is aptitude which involves fitting the mental work to the employee.
What is the employee good at? Where does their passion lie? What do they like doing that you know they are good at? This will help you match the employee’s aptitude to their duties rather than just having random people working in various departments even though their passion lies elsewhere.
Matching the aptitude of an employee to the work they do can have a huge impact on their morale and can eventually boost productivity. At the end of the day, an employee is likely to excel at their job and remain in the company if their strengths are utilized where they matter.
When hiring rather than hiring someone who has the educational qualifications and skills that you are looking for, find someone who can not only do the job but actually wants to do it. Such employees will not require a lot of training and in the long haul are more likely to stay at the job and be productive. Check our previous article on what is a sustainable workplace? (6 ways to create a sustainable work environment)
2. Level of Skills
One of the factors that most employers don’t consider when hiring is matching the skills of the employee to their expected output. When that doesn’t happen, it creates a culture of tired and burnt-out employees because the company is asking for more than they can deliver based on their skill level.
Burn-out and fatigue are some of the ways productivity reduces, creates room for errors and not to mention is a stress trigger. The opposite is equally true. Underutilizing employees especially your top talent can lead to lowered productivity in the end which will finally result in such employees leaving the company for greener pastures.
Assigning work to an employee just because they have the skills is not enough. You need to consider both skills and aptitude. At the end of the day, employees are more productive when they are handling roles that they are good at and love doing unlike when doing something they are good at but are not passionate about. While there are times that you will require such an employee to do something that they don’t like, for the overall good of the company, you should keep those to a minimum and only let them handle such roles when it’s absolutely necessary and on a short term basis.
An ergonomic work environment takes into consideration not only physical aspects of the job but the psychological impacts as well. Some of the physical elements that may affect productivity either directly or indirectly include the office furniture, lighting as well as temperature.
Studies have it that maintaining a comfortable temperature in the office that allows employees to concentrate on their jobs affects productivity by 10 to 15 percent. As for lighting, the direction of the light, light levels, type of light sources and color has an impact on the eyes and if not taken care of can cause eye strain in your employees. (This complete guide to office lighting best practices provides more insights on the same)
Then there is the issue of artificial odors that are too strong or bad odors in the office which can affect how much concentrating the employee gives to their work. One of the ergonomic factors that most employers however overlook is noise which can be a distraction. Some lesser factors include the material of the walls, floor texture, the office layout, and positioning of doors and windows. Such factors that affect a person’s senses, should be put into consideration.
In terms of office ergonomics, furniture involves matching of work tools to the environment. For those who work in the office all day, it is the landscape as well as the chairs. The depth, height, shape and even the color of the desk can have a significant effect on how much gets done at the end of the day and the morale of your employees after that. The office desks need to be enough to hold everything from monitors, phones, keyboard as well as paperwork.
The chair also has a significant effect on the productivity of the employee. For those who work in the office from nine to five, the chairs need to be comfortable enough to avoid such issues as back pain and in the long run stress. (We have written a related article – 25 desks your office needs for health & wellness)
5. Office Tools
The whole aspect of work ergonomics is providing employees with the right tools to do their jobs. As an employer, it is important that you analyze different tasks and what tools are needed and operations required from the employee. In doing so, you can then try and get the right tools that can help the employee do their jobs not only faster but efficiently. Employees who have the right tools to do their jobs are more likely to give their everything in what they do and remain loyal to the company.
For most employees who work in the office, some of the common tools that they need is a mouse, computer and a working keyboard. Adding other tools like a copy machine, telephones and adding machines will only make the environment even more conducive for work.
While compensation is not a direct ergonomic factor, it plays a huge role in the psychological aspect of self-worth that employees assign in themselves and at the end of it all affects their output.
Case and point, an employee who doesn’t feel like what they do is valued or their productivity isn’t appreciated is more likely to reduce the efforts they put in what they do and in the end, it may affect their well-being. At the end of the day, how a person feels about themselves due to how others treat them is the most important aspect when it comes to productivity.
Ergonomics and Employee Performance
Most organizations have realized just how important ergonomics are in the office and have put in place measures to tackle the health and well-being of employees before productivity is affected by absenteeism.
While the workplace is often viewed as just the office, there are so many ways you can make the environment as comfortable as possible for each and every employee from the highest ranking official to the interns. In dealing with ergonomics, you can reduce injury risks and in the end reduce the number of sick days and costs of absenteeism. Here are seven ways ergonomics affects employee’s performance;
1. Boosting Productivity
By designing the work environment ins such a way that it allows for fewer motions, less exertion, good posture as well as better reaches and heights, the work stations become more efficient and productivity increases which enhances employee performance.
2. Improved Quality of Work
A toxic work environment only increases the chances of errors. If the environment or work tools provided don’t allow the employee to do their jobs efficiently it can lead to frustration. For instance, a job that is too mentally or physically draining can make the employee become disengaged and less productive. In the end, if they don’t concentrate on their jobs and their attention reduces, the quality of work is affected.
3. Enhances Employee Engagement
When a company takes the health and well-being of their employees serious, the employees are likely to notice. If employees feel cared for and don’t experience any kind of frustrations or discomfort when at work, in the end, it reduces absenteeism, improves morale and engagement of the employees in company initiatives and in the long term can have a positive effect on the retention of employees as well as hiring.
4. Creating a Culture of Health and Safety
Work ergonomics is one of the best ways employers can demonstrate their commitment to the health and safety of their employees. When there is strong safety culture in an organization, it leads to healthier and vigilant employees who are a valuable asset to the company and in the end can nurture a healthy culture that increases performance. Learn more on workplace health and safety, business productivity and sustainability (10 strategies to build a sustainable workplace) in our previous article.
5. Identifying Ergonomic Risk Factors
Risk factors that are related to work activity and ergonomics can make it hard to strike a balance and can lead to a disengaged and less productive workforce.
6. Task Repetition
A majority of the time, most tasks are repetitive and are controlled by hourly or daily work targets and processes. While this is necessary to increase the company’s productivity, when high task repetition is combined with other factors like awkward postures and high force they can contribute to physical injury and mental stress. A job is considered repetitive if the cycle time takes 30 seconds or less.
Some of the ways you can control this are by allowing highly repetitive tasks to be performed efficiently without risking injuries by ensuring that you do everything to eliminate such things as excessive force and bad postures when working. Also, provide your employees with safe yet effective ways of completing their tasks as repetitive as they may be through training on proper techniques and putting in place welfare procedures.
The most effective way of dealing with task repetition, however, is by encouraging job rotation to ensure that one person doesn’t perform the same task over a long period of time. At the same time encourage your employees to take breaks when working so that they can avoid the physical strain that will affect their productivity.
7. Force Exertion
Most tasks require high force but this can be changed. For one, you can improve ergonomics by eliminating that use of excessive force by adding adjustable work stations and height lift tables. You can also improve work processes by using carts to reduce heavy lifting as well as other carrying demands. Employees can also be trained on how to use proper lifting techniques to reduce the force required to complete a task.
How important is ergonomics to the overall health of an employee? Ergonomics is extremely important in not only the productivity of the employee but in their overall health. This is because, when an employee is doing their job and they are seated in an awkward posture, there are extreme temperatures in the office and they are doing the same thing over and over again, it can affect their morale, love for their job and overall is a leading cause of not only physical injury but stress.
What are the principals of ergonomics? There are several principals of ergonomics in the workplace and they include, making it possible for employees to work in neutral postures, keeping everything within reach, proper height when working, reducing excessive motions and force, minimizing fatigue, pressure points, and static load, taking breaks and overall maintaining a comfortable work environment that allows employees to be productive.