man stretching at his desk

Human factors in workplace design ergonomics

Thought Leadership on Workspace Solutions presented by Benhar Office Interiors. 

Why workplace ergonomics matter for morale and productivity

What is ergonomics anyway? Even in prehistoric times, Australopithecus Prometheus selected rocks that were shaped to suit the task at hand to use as tools. As we evolved, the selection and creation of tools, machines, and work processes continued. Over centuries, the effectiveness of hammers, axes and plows improved.

World War II prompted greater interest in human­-machine interaction as the efficiency of sophisticated military equipment (i.e., airplanes) could be compromised by bad or confusing design. This began to be perceived as a more broadly applicable concept in many fields, and the term Ergonomics was coined in 1949, from the greek words “ergon” and “nomos”. It is now largely considered the science of improving the workplace.

Herman Miller, the furniture manufacturer famous for designs like its iconic Eames chairs, was and still is a leader in research regarding ergonomics in the workspace. Herman Miller designer Gilbert Rhode famously said “ The most important thing in the room is not the furniture – it’s the people.” This seems like common sense, but coming from a furniture designer, it has real impact and relevance.

People are important to a company’s prosperity, and as the job market continues to grow more competitive it is important to attract, hire and retain the best people possible. Herman Miller’s research indicates ergonomics is a big factor in this. Workplace ergonomics isn’t just a good chair, although that helps, ergonomics is the way humans interact in the workplace on a physical, cognitive and social level. They call this the three branches of ergonomics.

Three Branches of Workplace Ergonomics

  1. Physical Ergonomics

The experts have all proven that using an ergonomically sound approach to work helps minimize and prevent pain and discomfort by encouraging neutral body postures and healthy

movement and motion. It can even make us healthier. And that is great but to really understand, consider these numbers:

Each year back pain costs companies an estimated $7,400,000,000.

47 percent: Office workers spend 47 percent of their time doing computer related work.

3x: At age 60, our eyes need three times as much light to see as they did at 20.

8/10: 8 out of 10 workers experience back pain at some point.

91 percent: Computer vision syndrome affects almost 66 million people. 91% of all computer users suffer from eyestrain.

$17.50: For every dollar invested in an ergonomic intervention strategy in an office environment, there is a return of $17.50.

With that kind of data, it seems crazy that the investment in quality furniture is something some employers consider extravagant or unnecessary. They should really consider a nice chair as a gesture saying, “I value your work”, because without it, talented employees may choose to move on to a company that does.

  1. Cognitive ergonomics

Cognitive ergonomics helps us understand how we perceive and approach our work and tools. The environment has effects on how well we work and how happy we are when we work—and happiness has an effect on productivity.

Here are some design considerations to help managers infuse companies with an ergonomics in the workspace philosophy:

  • Light
  • Noise
  • Natural views

As an employer looks around he or she’s office, these should be in the back of their head. Although it may not be an intended message, poorly lit, enclosed spaces express a lack of effort and concern that is being perceived by their employees.

  1. Social ergonomics in the workspace

Social ergonomics is the study of how people’s behavior and interactions with each other are affected by the environment.

Here are some characteristics of good social workplaces:

  • Support groups of different sizes
  • Allow people to choose how much personal space they want
  • Encourage spontaneous interaction through shared pathways and resources
  • Allow people to regulate their privacy
  • Allow people to personalize their private spaces

While these may seem like common sense, it takes research and communication for people to really think holistically about how the work environment affects humans, us, all of us.

Understanding ergonomics at work can be very illuminating. Ergonomic chairs are important, but so is creating and furnishing work environments that support productivity, collaboration and overall happiness for the people that use it. Do they want to be at work or do they have to be at work, and what are the consequences of those feelings? Let us know your thoughts.

At Benhar Office Interiors, our motto is “we furnish your ideas,” we can also be a resource to develop ideas and provide services and products that are tailored to support a ergonomic workplace. Reach out, there are experts here that can help put in place a workplace ergonomics strategy that will create an environment for success.

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