Why working ergonomically works better

You’ve doubtless heard people talking about working ergonomically. You probably know it’s something to do with avoiding back problems or other work-related pains and strains. You may even have heard that it’s about working comfortably and efficiently.

Once you’ve read this article you’ll appreciate why ergonomics is such a top priority for so many employers, large and small. Because whether you’re an employer, manager or worker; whether you work in procurement, sales or personnel; ensuring you and your colleagues are working ergonomically is absolutely core business.

Here we tell you why, and what exactly it means to work ergonomically. With a Quick Guide to why working ergonomically is important for every business plus our Top 10 Do’s & Don’ts Tips to make sure your organisation is working ergonomically.

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the study of how efficiently people operate in their working environment. Experts broadly agree that ergonomics breaks down into 3 main areas:

  • Physical ergonomics — optimising your physical work environment

  • Cognitive ergonomics — covering areas like work stress and mental well-being at work

  • Organisational ergonomics — concerned with areas like communication, work shift arrangements and teamwork.

Cognitive and organisational ergonomics are relatively young fields. And if you’re reading this, the chances are you’re better off starting with the relatively low-hanging fruit, which for most companies is to be found in physical ergonomics. So that’s where we’ll focus in this article.

Working ergonomically: your golden opportunity

When it comes to the benefits of working ergonomically, people tend to focus on the negative: the problems working ergonomically prevents. But if you encourage employees to work more ergonomically, it also has an affirmative impact: they will perform better and interact with each other more positively; focusing on discussing work issues, rather than gripes about pains or dizziness.

All of which means less sick leave and fewer serious or chronic injuries, which in turn translates into higher work efficiency and improved performance: happy workers, happy boss, happy stakeholders, happy days!

What does working ergonomically entail?

Working ergonomically means working in a physical and mental environment that’s been optimised to meet your personal needs and comfort. If you’re working ergonomically, the tools and space you use to do your job have actually been adapted to help you carry out the individual tasks in your working day as efficiently as possible. And with minimum short- or long-term negative impact on your physical and mental well-being.

That obviously means adapting the physical objects you use to do your work. But it also means how you behave during your working day. Let’s take perhaps the most common example in a developed economy: desk work.

Desk work
The human body simply wasn’t made to spend 8 hours a day sitting more or less still in the same position, as we do when we sit in front of a computer screen all day. So to help you work ergonomically various ergonomic work products have been developed.

All well and good. But even if you have the optimal workplace set-up, sitting in one position for hours at a time still isn’t very healthy. Many researchers say that after a while your body actually goes into a kind of shutdown. Which is about as bad for you as it sounds.

To avoid that, you need to move around. Most experts advise doing so every hour at least. What you do when you get up from your desk is up to you. Whether that’s simply standing and walking around or doing a quick set of low-key exercises that workout the key muscle groups.

Our Top Tips: 10 Do’s & Don’ts to ensure you’re working ergonomically

  1. Don’t take it sitting down: don’t remain sitting in the same position the whole day. Instead regularly switch your posture. So for example, when you’re reading a document on your screen, let go of your mouse. When you make a phone call, stand up and move about. Another great idea is a sit-stand table that can be easily raised to let you work standing for a while and then lowered again to sit again. This variation throughout the day gives you a nice little energy boost to get through your mid-morning or late-afternoon dip. With some people in an office standing at their desk while others sit can also create a very dynamic work atmosphere and is also conducive to keeping the importance of working ergonomically front-of-mind with everyone.

  2. Screen zombies: Don’t sit in front a screen for too long: Experts recommend a maximum 6 hours per day in total. But then not in one go, but broken up with other activities, ideally ones that allow you to get up from your desk.

  3. Get going: Make sure you get enough exercise outside work hours, too. It doesn’t have to be a major workout in the gym. Going for a walk around the block after supper for 30 minutes, taking the stairs not the lift at work, getting off your bus a stop before your destination… it all adds up. And there are plenty of fitness and healthy living apps out there to help you, for example, by counting your daily steps and helping you set realistic weekly targets to get them up.

  4. Break it up: Take a regular short break from your workplace while you leave your desk. Build such movement into your work patterns, for example by visiting the colleague on the next floor to tell him something rather emailing.

  5. Use ergonomic products: As well as an ergonomically efficient desk, chair and monitor stand set-up, try to use other ergonomic products, such as an ergonomic keyboard and ergonomic mouse.

  6. Listen to your body: It may sound a bit new age and zen, but those little aches and pains really are your body trying to tell you something. As any sports physiotherapist will confirm, the best way to deal with an injury is to avoid getting it in the first place. And when you think of the repetitive strains we put our body through at work for hours on end, the comparison with elite athletes is actually not so far-fetched.

  7. Listen to your mind: The same goes for listening to your mind. Enthusiasm, a go-for-it attitude, tough but achievable deadlines… it’s what makes work fun for many of us. But only up to a point. In our competitive, performance-driven culture, people are sometimes afraid that flagging up stress or overwork issues may be seen as a sign of weakness or inadequacy. It isn’t. Just like physical strains, dealing with stress and other psychological pressures before they build up into a problem, for example by discussing them with your boss, is actually the strong thing to do.

  8. Drink enough water: Again just like athletes, we should all make sure we drink enough water every day. Enough doesn’t mean litres and litres, as some would have you believe. But taking regular sips that are enough to keep you nicely hydrated is important to avoid headaches and other unpleasant symptoms.

  9. Create an open work culture: Make it acceptable to bring up physical complaints and symptoms in the workplace. Because if employees don’t bring them up with you, the alternative is that they bring them up at a later stage in their doctor’s consulting room. With every chance that they will be off sick as a result of everyone, employee and employer alike, having ignored the symptoms for far too long.

  10. Make ‘working ergonomically’ happen: brainstorm with colleagues about how to make sure your company is working ergonomically. Agree on and prioritize the ideas that should be implemented, and share a copy of the timetable for implementation.

To learn how we can help you ensure your business is working ergonomically, contact us.