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How ergonomics impacts productivity

Article provided by Bidvest Waltons

It may seem intuitive, but we’re here to remind you that comfort is essential to productivity in the workplace. A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) surveyed nearly 29 000 adults and found that roughly 53% had experienced discomfort at work. The study took this notion one step further and measured how discomfort contributes to lost time. It looked at absenteeism in the workplace – the times when workers are absent because they need to attend appointments or they’re away sick – and also at ‘presenteeism’ which refers to employees who are unable to work to their full capacity due to discomfort or injury. When an employee is uncomfortable at the workstation, he or she is likely to take longer to get started in the mornings, moves around more often and requires more frequent breaks and, if injured, takes more time off.

The (financial) effects of having uncomfortable employees are significant and ongoing. The same study found that the economy loses around $61 billion each year because of reduced productivity due to discomfort. If ergonomic work tools – which, by design, make work more comfortable – are provided, employees are more likely to be able to work to the best of their ability and take fewer or shorter breaks. One study found that participants who did not alter their postures during the day took an average of 47% more breaks, and these breaks were 56% longer than those who moved around. (We’ll say it again: movement is key to health at work.)

For businesses, it helps to see ergonomic work tools as an investment, rather than as a cost. By reducing employee discomfort, employers can also help to limit absenteeism and presenteeism while significantly boosting productivity in the workplace. The benefits will be long lasting and employees will be happier, healthier and more comfortable. A real-life example perfectly demonstrates this idea: Blue Cross Blue Shield found that, after implementing ergonomic designs in their workplace, there was a 4.4% improvement in productivity. This means employees spent more time doing actual work because they were more comfortable – and we all know that time is money.

With so much of your time spent in the office we have come up with five quick fixes to ensure stiff muscles, back pain and general discomfort are a thing of the past when working at your desk. Experts in ergonomics understand how the human body needs to function to be at its most productive and have provided some tips to help eliminate back pain and general discomfort in the workplace.

Quick fix 1 – Back support
Poor back support results in stiff muscles and an uncomfortable work experience. Firstly, ensure you are seated in a reclined position. Your chair should provide firm support but also have a bit of give so your back can recline when needed – a responsive back chair is ideal. Your arms should not be extended while typing so ensure the height of the chair is correct. Adjust it so that your feet are flat on the ground and your hips are higher than your knees.

Quick fix 2 – Document and keyboard placement
Placement is key! How you manoeuvre around the various items on your desk has a big impact on how your body feels at the end of the day. For your keyboard, place it at the edge of your desk with your documents on a lever arch file between the keyboard and monitor. Many people put their documents on the edge of the desk and then have to stretch past those to use the keyboard. This can result in lower back pain. On an average work day a typists fingers travel over 20 kilometres, as such it is vital not to strain your body while typing. 

Quick fix 3 – Keyboard and mouse placement
Your primary working area is close to the edge of your desk, within 25 centimetres. As such it is important to place the keyboard and mouse in the centre of the desk but close enough so that you are able to type and control the mouse comfortably. To ensure you maintain the position, place some markers on the desk so that you can see the shift from your primary working area. 

Quick fix 4 – Sit or stand
The most important thing to remember throughout the day is that movement is key. Having a sit/stand work station that requires very little operation, i.e. no electric motors or cranks, is the best piece of ergonomic equipment you can own. Sitting the whole day is very bad for you and so is standing – so being able to move effortlessly between the two is key.

Quick fix 5 – Monitor height and distance
Posture is very important. Setting your monitor to the correct position is key as it will result in the correct seated posture. To do this, set your monitor height to eye-level which should create a 15-20 degree angle and will result in the most comfortable angle for your eyes. In terms of distance, your screen should be an arm’s length away from you when seated in a reclined position. This can differ depending on whether you use glasses or bifocals but the screen should not be so close that you hurt your eyes or too far so that you have to hunch over your desk to see it. If need be, you can place your monitor on a pile of books to maintain the correct height.

Your body should not be taking strain while you are at your workspace. Remember to get up from your desk and take a walk around the office as long periods of sitting can result in slow blood flow and restrict your oxygen supply. To be at your most productive follow these five quick fixes so that when at your desk you are perfectly positioned to avoid discomfort.

Sources: Humanscale; Prof A. Hedge; Various

Bidvest Waltons is a proud partner of the National Small Business Chamber (NSBC).