Office ergonomics is a way to effectively improve worker productivity. But the ergonomics we are talking about are much more than you might be thinking. Ergonomics isn't all about the right chair of keyboard after all.
With an ergonomic perspective we can increase workplace productivity while at the same time improving worker morale and welfare. And who wouldn't want happy and healthy employees, since that leads to more productive employees. That kind of synergistic, co-dependent improvement cycle is a hallmark of good and effective ergonomics.
When it comes to work there are a few factors that have a major impact on worker productivity. And since productivity is what translates to profit for a company the employer has a vital interest in it. From a worker's point of view you should be concerned about productivity as well, since it is a key component of your continued employment and how much you enjoy your job, that all important morale.
These ergonomic factors for the office worker directly impact their productivity, morale and welfare. If you get them right things will be good. If you get them wrong things can go terribly awry. The really good news is that most of this can be implemented with very little cost.
Ergonomics is known for fitting the work to the worker. This is usually accomplished through specialized tools or efficient systems. Perhaps more important than that, to overall productivity, is aptitude, or fitting the mental work to the worker.
What are you good at doing? What do you like doing? What do you like to do that you are good at? That's probably what you will be most efficient at and eventually have the highest skill at. Matching a worker's aptitudes to their job duties can make a huge impact to productivity and morale.
It is also a concept that is gaining more traction in the management, ergonomics and industrial engineering fields. Instead of finding an employee who has the skills and degrees you are looking for, find one who can do the job and wants to do it. They will be easier to train, more likely to stay at the job for the long haul, and more productive at it too boot.
The skill level of the employee should be matched to the expected work output. Asking to much of an employee and overwhelming them is a sure fire way to lower there productivity, increase errors, heighten their stress and shatter their peace of mind. Under-utilizing an employees skill can undercut the employers productivity.
Assigning an employee work just because they have skill in it is not a good thing. Skill and aptitude should both be considered. People are much more productive doing things they are good at and like as opposed to doing things they are good at and don't like, or worse, detest. Sometimes the employer does need something done that nobody likes to do and an employee just needs to suck it up and do it. But for overall morale and welfare this should be done as a limited engagement with a known ending point so everyone can get through the tough work time knowing that greener pastures are ahead.
An ergonomic office environment takes into account not only the human-environment interfaces, those things you actually come into contact with, but also the psychological impact of the environment.
The more direct physical elements that can distract the office worker or make you uncomfortable are the lighting, temperature, and furniture. We'll get into furniture in more detail elsewhere. Maintaining a comfortable temperature has been shown to have a 10-15% effect on productivity. For lighting the light levels, direction of light, color and type of light source all have an impact on your eyes and can causes or relieve eye strain.
Bad odors or odors that are strong or artificial can be a hindrance. An often overlooked ergonomic office element is noise. It can keep you from getting anything done. To a lesser extent the textures of the floor and wall material can have a positive or negative effect. So can the general layout of the traffic through the office, placement of windows and door openings. In general anything that affects your senses needs to be considered.
At the same time your office mates and co-workers in your cubicle bullpen can have a dramatic impact on your well being, especially if the office drama carries on out of the break room. A clash of personalities can destroy productivity, morale and welfare all in one fell swoop.
Furniture, especially when discussing office ergonomics, is the merging of tools and environment. For desk dwellers, it is your landscape, and your chair your sturdy steed for your daylong ride of data entry.
The desk is the center piece. The height, depth, shape, and even color can have a profound effect on how much you get done in a day and how you feel about it when it is over. It needs to have enough real estate to hold all of your essential ergonomic office tools, like your keyboard, monitor and phone, and still have sufficient space for paperwork to be completed and piled up, I mean "temporarily stored".
As a cubicle warrior you exercise your posterior muscles more than probably anything else. So your chair becomes a well worn companion. Having an adjustable and agreeable ergonomic desk chair is the foundation for any computer or desk setup. It is also the base for your welfare and health. And that is the base for your productivity and morale. So make sure your chair works for you and not against you.
Ergonomic Office Tools
The traditional core of ergonomics is all about the right tool for the job. You try to fit the work to the worker, at least the physical aspect of the work.
First you run a task analysis. When you analyze the task you find out what the human-machine interfaces are, what tools are needed and what operations are required from the human. What all this boils down to is you get to see what kind of things can help get the job done easier, faster and with less strain on the worker.
For modern office workers the common tools of the job are the computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse. So computer ergonomics is important along with a good ergonomic computer setup. But not to be forgotten are other things you might use for extended periods of time like the telephone, adding-machine are even the copy machine.
How well these tools fit natural body-mechanics as well as how they are setup on the phone are important to how efficiently you use them and how much they take a toll on your body.
Body mechanics can be a complicated element when figuring out your office ergonomics. Every activity has specific movements that are comfortable and natural, and as such should be the easiest to repeat without developing repetitive stress injuries. The problem is you do the same thing so many times at a desk that you'll probably get a repetitive stress injury no matter what and if you don't get the right tools you'll get it faster.
The most common body mechanics are those of sitting, typing, using the mouse and using the telephone. Sitting should be avoided as much as possible. There are no ifs ands or buts about that. Sitting for long durations is just bad for you so make sure to maintain a good sitting posture. As for the others, careful pacing, frequent breaks and supportive ergonomic tools and setups can make those activities safe so your well fare will not suffer and your productivity will stay high.
Compensation isn't directly an ergonomic factor, but it plays into the psychological aspect of self worth and the value of the work being performed. If someone doesn't feel there work is valuable or they aren't appreciated their productivity, welfare, and most dramatically, morale will suffer. How you feel about yourself may be the most important aspect to personal productivity and compensation, whether it is time off, extra pay or cupcakes on Friday in the break room, plays an important role in that. After all people always feel better after a raise.