By Norman Halls
Technology has brought huge advances in the power and capability of the machines which support us in our work. The human machine evolves at a somewhat slower pace. The result is workplaces which can at times resemble medieval torture chambers, at least as far as our necks, eyes and hands are concerned.
The adaptation of machine to man is the concept of ergonomics. Ergonomic products seek to enhance the interface between technology and the human form. Ergonomics attempts to identify the physical points of stress, and then minimize or eliminate that stress through superior design of workstations.
Consider this passage from case studies done by Kristina Kemmlert in Solna, Sweden:
"The economy of ergonomic improvements is reported in case studies in Swedish companies. Poor workplace ergonomics and related musculoskeletal problems were already known and had caused repeated sick-leave periods at the companies. Expenses associated with certain preventive activities were accounted for the financial effects. When costs were compared to gains, the improvements appeared to be highly profitable."
Or this from work done in the United Kingdom:
"Numerous scientific studies have shown that an ergonomic environment translates into higher employee productivity, through both greater time spent at the desk, and fewer missed days. In today's computer-intensive environment, an ergonomic monitor setup is critical to achieving these benefits. Employees comfortable in their workplace reward the employer with higher productivity. Higher productivity, of course, translates into lower costs and greater profit"
There are still a lot of people who do not realize that the body pains they bear are often attributed to the bad ergonomics in the office. According to ergonomics, author Tomer Harel says, "no matter how healthy a person is, once he or she is forced to work using office products with bad ergonomics, he or she can develop a world of medical problems such as upper and lower back pain, leg, hip, and neck pain, as well as severe headaches and migraines."
Today in the current economic cycle there are two forms: hunkering down or getting ready to grow. Hunkering down until the storm passes may be an inevitable strategy in many cases, as shedding jobs or closing offices is the fastest way to trim operating cost. Still, firms able to build their professional teams now will best position to grow when the economy mounts a comeback.
During this lean time, you cannot assume that your present staff will be as productive as you would like. The frequency and the complexity of computer tasks means users who work in awkward positions are not being productive. The solution is a workspace equipped for the employee that's proactive. Ergonomic products will save money and your employees and customers happier, healthier, and more productive.
According to work done by David Douphrate and John Rosecrance at Colorado State University: Productivity can be enhanced through the implementation of ergonomic principles. Productivity improvements result in cost reductions and improved organizational value. It might be easy to comprehend how ergonomics can improve productivity in a manufacturing setting, where tangible products are constructed; however, in an office setting, as well as service-oriented companies, it might be more difficult to prove the productivity benefits of ergonomics. Smith and Bayehi (2003) conducted a study using computer office workers in distribution and call centers in the United States Midwest. The authors found that worker productivity increased from 2.4 percent to 9.4 percent for those who received ergonomic improvements to their workstation. Increased memos/documents produced, service calls taken, and customer help calls are all ways to measure improved office worker productivity.
Economic uncertainty is making managers unusually cautious to changing teams, providing an excellent opportunity to strengthen personnel in business areas and locations that will likely grow in the next cycle as part of its long-range plan to expand its business in the industrial sector.
Retaining the decades of experience and customer contacts represented by the industry's talent will be necessary. Keeping those people on board in some capacity will require developing flexible schedules and compensation structure.
During the past decade, the industry has done much to catch up to the high-tech revolution. And an investment in improved ergonomics is a good way to make those employees both feel more comfortable and be more productive.
Norman Halls is with Madsen Group LLC, a provider of workplace solutions with offices in Farmington. He is a former teacher at both the high school and college level, specializing in industrial psychology. Reach him at email@example.com.