How ergonomics succeed at the workplace

Wherever people work, improving working conditions is an important matter. Health, economic and qualitative aspects have to be considered for this. But different employees may have a varying idea of what constitutes the ideal workplace setup. As no two people are the same, an ergonomic workplace design has to be adaptable to each individual and their particular situation. Employees and businesses benefit from this. 

Expensive work absences

With an average incapacity for work of 17.1 days per employee, a total of 700.6 million working days were lost in Germany due to this reason in 2020. Based on these figures, the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (baua) has estimated total loss of production in the economy as a whole of EUR 87 billion, with a gross loss of EUR 144 billion.

A high percentage of employee health problems stem from insufficient ergonomics in the workplace. For example, musculoskeletal disorders were the number one reason (22.6%) for absences in 2020.

New working world of home office and hot desking

The workplace underwent rapid change during the pandemic, and a mix of office attendance and working from home (or remotely, if on the road) has become the norm. Even office life is no longer as it once was. Hot desking, open plan offices and lounge furniture are increasingly a feature. The days of everyone having their own desk with their own belongings are giving way to flexible solutions. As a result, people are having to set up their workstation from scratch every time. Product solutions that take these requirements into account and that are self-explanatory and easy to use can help with this.

The challenge for employers lies in empowering employees to properly use and adjust the equipment for themselves and make the right selection. It makes sense in this regard to use the requirements of the ergonomic computer workstations found in conventional offices as a guide when designing a permanent home office arrangement.

Conditions influence behaviour

Office design has a direct impact on employee behaviour. One obvious example: height-adjustable tables enable people to switch between sitting and standing. Giving employees intuitive, well-designed equipment nudges them to make best use of it in the interests of a healthier workplace.

Likewise, environmental factors such as acoustics, light and air conditioning affect us, impacting how well we feel and, thus, our individual performance. Above a particular stress level, environmental factors can also have a detrimental effect and even make us sick.

Hot desking – the post-pandemic trend

Deliberations on the effective use of office space have led to the idea of hot desking. With more and more of us having established a home office during the pandemic, this organisational form is becoming increasingly important. Big companies are recognising that assigning everyone a physical desk in the office is less important for the growth of their business and maintaining an efficient work environment. Savings from better utilisation of space are also welcome. This results in new challenges for employees, and the question frequently arises: “How can I set up my workspace properly?”. When employees share desks, it’s therefore important to have easy-to-follow guides for adjusting the equipment provided. Take office chairs – each one should have a clearly visible label showing the brand and model number. Staff can then easily find a user guide online, on the company intranet or in the cloud.

Staying active is key

When working, movement breaks are essential. Online searches throw up a multitude of exercises and routines designed to work our arms, chest, backs, legs and abdomen. Daily movement in the office does not have to be limited to setting up a printer or having a game of table football. Many companies offer complete fitness programmes that include online courses for use in home offices. Health insurers also produce educational videos that show how we can stay fit. Essentially – anything that keeps people moving in the workplace is to be welcomed!

What we can all do now

Get 10,000 steps a day. You’ll notice your productivity and fitness levels rise. One instant improvement will be to your mood! An active lifestyle also helps to prevent illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, dyslipidemia and arteriosclerosis.

Health is wealth

One day of absence per employee costs the economy between EUR 500 and EUR 1,000. This puts into perspective the expense associated with improved workplace ergonomics. In fact, good working conditions boost satisfaction and motivation, which are crucial to employee retention. At a time when skilled workers are in short supply and the demographic structure is changing, motivated employees are always a good thing!

About the author: IGR Institut für Gesundheit und Ergonomie e.V. (institute for health and ergonomics)

The IGR Institut für Gesundheit und Ergonomie e.V. (institute for health and ergonomics) is part of a powerful network. Doctors, physiotherapists, scientists, operational health management staff, government representatives, product developers and retailers – they are all concerned with health and ergonomics. The institute has been based in Nuremberg since its foundation in 1998 and started with back training courses for children. Today the IGR pays attention to safety and health at work, advises companies on the ergonomic design of both administration and production workplaces. In addition to the workplace analyses, it also carries out risk assessments and certifies ergonomic products. A comprehensive training and seminar programme rounds off the range of services.

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