An office may not seem like a hazardous place to work, but sitting at a desk working at a computer all day can turn out to be quite detrimental to your health and wellbeing.
Whilst there are many aspects to a properly designed office space which can help improve or minimise any negative impact it may have – aspects such as proper application of office furniture, appropriate lighting, temperature control, noise and air quality, all of which should ideally be thought out pre-build as they are difficult to retrofit afterwards – you can, however, achieve several easy, quick, and relatively cheap wins by paying attention to simple ergonomics.
Ergonomics is the process of designing a product or adjusting the surroundings in order to improve the efficiency and comfort for its users or occupants.
What can you do to improve the ergonomics in your office?
1. Choose the right ergonomic seating
In a recent survey, it was found that the average office worker will spend almost 1,700 hours a year (roughly 5 years overall in their working lives) sitting at their desk, which, over time, can have an incredibly adverse effect on many parts of their body. Most notably, it can accelerate the onset of musculoskeletal disorders – so it’s no wonder that poor furniture choices contribute massively to absenteeism and reduced productivity. With office workers sitting for extended periods each day, it’s important that a high-quality, ergonomically designed task chair is used so to prevent any unwanted aches or pains.
One of the most essential features of an ergonomic chair is that it has adequate lumbar support. Our spines can naturally maintain the correct curvature without back support. When we sit in the same chair for long periods of time, it can result in slouching forward. Slouching pushes the lower back out and our natural spine curvature goes in the opposite direction which causes it to strain due to the unnatural position. Having an office chair with correct lumbar support means that your back is supported and maintains the proper curvature and shoulders and hips are kept in alignment.
You should also ensure that you choose a seat that has height adjustment capability as a chair set at the correct height for you will reduce the stress on your knees and hips. Your seat should be adjusted so that your knees are slightly lower than your hips, your thighs are parallel to the floor and your feet are resting flat.
Chairs that have a tilt mechanism are great for users who sit for extended periods of time. The tilt mechanism means your chair will gently move as you do, thus encouraging free movement and to change up your position. A chair with a tilt mechanism also relieves pressure on the lower back and tailbone as it helps stretch your back and reduces slouching.
Top tip: The best way to test whether your seat has the correct lumbar support for you back is to sit up straight with your head, spine and buttocks in alignment and sit all the way back in your seat. The curve of the chair should naturally follow the curve in your back. Make sure not to be over or under-arching your back.
2. Provide the right desking environment
When it comes to designing an office space, like the type of seating provided, desk type may seem unimportant but it can mean the difference between a happy worker and an unproductive one. Try choosing a desk that has a matte finish as this helps minimise reflective glare. Glare from your desk can cause stress to your eyes and, without realising it, can cause you eye strain which can cause symptoms such as sore eyes, blurry vision and dry eyes.
When choosing desks, ensure its height allows the user to sit at the desk comfortably with their feet flat on the floor; It should be high enough that knees can be bent at a 90-degree angle and the user can reach equipment without having to stretch.
If you are using a laptop, then invest in a laptop stand for your desk as looking down while working on your laptop can cause unwanted neck pain.
3. Position your monitors correctly
Poorly positioned monitors can contribute to several health problems, including headaches, neck pain and eye strain. Correctly placed monitors are positioned so that the top of your screen is in line with your eye and at a distance where if your arm is straight in front, your fingertips just touch the screen.
Whilst not always possible, try to place monitors in a way that reduces glare from any external light sources and only try to buy monitors that remove harmful blue light. There has been a lot of research on blue light and how it affects us, for example our sleep and our eye health. In a recent study, it was found that prolonged exposure to blue light triggers the creation of poisonous molecules in the eye’s light-sensitive cells. This causes macular degeneration, which is incurable. With office workers often looking at computer screens for six to eight hours a day, it is essential to ensure you equip your employees with a suitable monitor that allows you to change display settings.
4. Provide appropriate Ergonomic training
Ergonomics training is a cost-effective way of teaching employees what they need to know to stay relatively healthy at work and reduce their risks of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or other disabling conditions.
By enrolling your employees on an ergonomics training course, you can educate your HR department and employees on how to adjust their workstations themselves as well as allowing them to quickly identify areas that need improvement. Enrolling employees on training courses drastically helps to increase compliance rates, shows you’re an investor in people and that you care for your staff’s wellbeing – all of which ultimately reduces administration time and costs due to the employees being able to identify risks themselves and implement solutions on their own before they turn into much deeper problems.
How can a business benefit from correct ergonomics?
1. Reduce costs
Without adequate ergonomic measures in place, employees may experience work-related musculoskeletal disorders which are one of the leading causes of employee absence in the UK. In 2016, Employee Absence, on average, was estimated to have cost the UK economy in excess of £18 billion each year. Recent statistics from the ONS provide an even more bleak picture, citing that Sickness and absence cost the UK economy 149 million working days in 2021. High rates of employee absence can be damaging to your business’ profits, especially if absences are paid for without any return.
When employees are absent without any replacement, it will most definitely lead to a significant drop in work being produced. For instance, if an employee working 9am-5pm, 5 days a week, is absent for just one week, this roughly translates to 37.5 hours of work output being lost. Therefore, other employees often have to take on extra tasks and duties in an attempt to cover the lost output. This sudden increase in their own workload most often leads to a reduction in their own productivity.
2. Improve productivity
It can be hard for employees to think of new ideas, solve problems and feel inspired when they’re in physical discomfort. In a 2015 Leesman study, 136,000 participants reported the three most important factors relating to workplace efficiency were linked to comfort; desk, chair and temperature control.
Employees who are uncomfortable at work are more likely to feel fatigued quicker, more easily frustrated and make more mistakes than employees who are comfortable and happy while at work. When employees aren’t on their top form, tasks can take longer than they should and will be completed to a lower standard.
Something as simple as utilising ergonomic keyboards and mice could improve productivity by helping employees work more comfortably and therefore more efficiently. Ergonomic keyboards and mice are specially designed to make typing easier and with less reach, which can help reduce repetitive motions and in turn helps reduce the risk of Carpal Tunnel syndrome (Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can include aches, pains and tingling in the hands and fingers due to pressure on a nerve in the wrist.)
3. Increase company reputation & improve employee retention
A company that cares and invests in their employees’ health and wellbeing have higher levels of employee retention. With employees now generally being more health conscious, it is important to make an office a happy and healthy environment. Happy employees are less likely to look for another job, often go the extra mile in the performance of their job and generally become brand advocates for the company. Oftentimes bestowing the company’s virtues and values to friends, family members and others. Therefore, to increase employee retention and employee satisfaction, it stands to reason that forward thinking companies should do what they can to make their working environment as empowering to its staff as it possibly can. By simply investing in ergonomic furniture to help improve employee health and comfort, as well as reducing illness and injuries such as musculoskeletal disorders and computer vision syndrome etc, you can achieve a quick, cheap and easy win for your business. Employee retention involves a lot more than just making sure your employees are comfortable, but it is an important step in the process of improving employee retention rates.
A fruitful byproduct of having a happy workplace is that employees naturally boost your company’s reputation. Employees who are happy are more likely to speak positively about the company and be content in the workplace. Having a cheerful atmosphere is also great for visitors and potential clients as they will see a company dynamic which they will want to involve themselves with.
Whatever industry you work in, employee safety should be a top priority and health & safety, whether physical or mental, should be monitored continuously.
If you would like to get the best out of your staff and your office environment, learn more about Ergonomics Training or office products, contact us today and speak to one of our award winning workplace consultants