Updated: May 15, 2022
Optimized workplace ergonomics can benefit organizations by offering a healthier and safer working environment for employees. This ultimately leads to higher productivity, quality increase, cost reduction for the employer, and higher levels of job satisfaction for employees.
Defining workplace ergonomics
If we adopt a scientific language, ergonomics is a discipline aiming to understand how we as humans interact with other elements in our spatial surroundings. If we see ergonomics as a profession, it's a bundle of theory, data, and methods that lead to human-friendly designs: ergonomic designs (University of North Carolina, 2022). Thus, workplace ergonomics refers to how human-friendly our office environment is.
By human-friendly designs, we mean environments in which, we as individuals, can optimize our well-being, efficiency, and effectiveness. In other words, an environment where we can achieve high performance without ending up with grave illnesses as we only reach the middle of our careers.
As explained above, well-designed offices and workplace environments present many benefits to employees. Health and safety come before performance. Actually, performance comes with them.
Let us dive into those in the next section.
What are the benefits of workplace ergonomics?
As explained above, ergonomics consists in creating human-friendly environments, i.e employee-friendly business environments if we're talking about ergonomics in the workplace.
Main benefits of an ergonomic workplace
Employee engagement boosting
Enhanced employee health and happiness
If we're not wrong, the above elements are basically what a company needs to perform and gain or maintain a competitive advantage.
For workers, it's what you seek in a company: a safe and healthy working environment. Here lies the importance of ergonomics!
Tips for an ergonomic workplace environment
1. Good posture
Let's start with how you are sitting at your workstation. For most office jobs, it's likely this is where you'll be spending the most time.
Don't sit up straight
Keeping a straight position actually leads to pressure being applied to your spine. Your spine is S-shaped for a reason!
Instead of sitting up straight, lean back and adjust your chair in a way your body weight is supported. Put simply, you don't want to be laying down or sitting straight up, find a middle ground.
Don't adjust your chair height based on your legs and feet
Now that you've adapted your posture, you can adjust your height.
The key here is to align your forearm with the keyboard and mouse height. Adjust your chair accordingly. If, like me, you're 1,75m and have your legs dangling, buy a footrest or simply find a stool or object you can rest your feet on.
Don't use wrist rests
Wrist rests don't contribute to a good working posture, quite the opposite. As you use a wrist rest, your palm is basically hanging between the wrist rest and your keyboard and mouse. This applies pressure to your wrists and all the precious veins in those wrists.
Instead, opt for a palm rest: a palm rest will maintain full alignment between your elbow, your forearm, your wrist, and your hand and reduce the risk of tension on any of those parts.
Another option is to opt for a keyboard specially designed to maintain this alignment. These are commonly called "low profile keyboards".
Don't stand (all day)
Stand-up desks have become quite common in the modern workplace. However, just like the sitting position, standing has its drawbacks, as it applies tension on your back in a similar fashion.
The point is, you shouldn't stand or sit too long during the day. The key is to change it up: get up every hour, grab a bite or a drink, and gossip for 5-10 minutes at the coffee machine. If you think this is a waste of company time, you're actually doing the firm a favor: your unhealthy posture will be much more costly to the company 20 years from now than your 5-10 minute break chatting about how your weekend went.
2. Take care of your eyes
Prevent digital eye strain
Digital eye strain is the result of us staring at screens for elongated periods of time. This strain is explained by the fact that most employees staring at computer screens for longer periods of time blink less.
According to Rahul Khurana, doctor of medicine and spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, this leads to eye strain and dry eyes.
The "20-20-20" rule
To avoid this, apply the famous "20-20-20" rule: every 20 minutes, look at objects that are 20 feet (approx. 6 meters) away for 20 seconds.
Now, who will really keep track of this or set an alarm every 20 minutes to remember this? Probably not many of you. And if your alarm rings out loud every 20 minutes in the office, you'll probably get fired before you even reach an eye strain.
What we suggest is for you to go for a 45-15 Pomodoro. Here's a great Pomodoro playlist to work with (with earphones on for your colleagues' sake). Using music playlists is a great way to structure your assignments and workload. In addition, music boosts productivity!
Consider wearing blue light glasses
Blue light is simply one type of colored light the sunlight contains. It has its own wavelength and energy level. More specifically, it has a short wavelength, which means it's relatively easy for it to penetrate your eyes and thus damage them.
While this topic is still being researched, some experts claim too much exposure to blue light may be detrimental to your eyesight.
3. Take regular breaks
We can talk about postures, eye strain, and lifting injuries: taking regular breaks is one of the most important ergonomic principles. To reduce the risk of long-term health issues, fatigue, and injuries, not to mention musculoskeletal disorders, making it easy and not overly challenging for your body is the best thing you can do for yourself.
More reasons why you shouldn't skip breaks
You're not giving your stress levels a chance to decrease
You're not letting your brain rest: your performance will decrease in the long run
You're missing out on office chats, gossip, and your boss's dad jokes, all essential for your mental health and employee morale
Ergonomics in the workplace: key takeaways
Workplace ergonomics should not be taken lightly by employees and managers. An office not taking ergonomics, (i.e. what constitutes human-friendly office designs) into account might pose a risk to employee health and safety.
Many risk factors need to be taken into account, namely office chair, workstation designs, and most importantly the work rhythm.
The lack of breaks is among the most serious risk factors which managers need to take into account. Embracing a company culture that gives employees the liberty of frequently taking breaks or alternating tasks has the potential to improve overall productivity.
As for employees, to prevent musculoskeletal disorders, injuries, or any other health risk, ergonomics also need to be taken seriously.
Workers should pay special attention to their body postures, alternate tasks as much as possible, and feel free to request an ergonomic workstation if is not provided.