What the Heck Does Ergonomic Mean Anyways! And Why Should I Care?

The buzz word around the office, in management meetings, and around content about working spaces is “ergonomic”. 

The Best Stand Up Desks are ergonomically designed

Ergonomics comes from two words in Greek: 

  • ergon which means work 
  • nomos which means natural laws 

Literally, ergonomics means natural laws of work. 

In this article, I go into depth about the development of ergonomics as it relates to working from home or in an office environment and the benefits to understanding and implementing ergonomic desks, chairs, and office furnishings, environment, and aesthetics. 

History of Ergonomics 

The actual coining of the word was from Wojciech Jastrzebowski in 1857. He was a Polish scholar who wrote a book on this topic. 

In 1997, his book was translated into English.

Dating back to ancient Roman times scholars and scientists were interested and concerned about how to increase the productivity of labor and at the same time keep the laborers healthy. 

One of the factors was the relationship between man and the machine or the object of his task. If a lot of your workers became injured, it reduced the output. If the machines invented did not produce an increase in labor output, one would need to realize it may not be a good fit for the person assigned to using the machine. 

In the 1920s, Gito Teruoka pioneered ergonomics in Japan. He incorporated American psychology into his research which focused on utilizing human power from the viewpoint of economics. 

After World War II, air travel rose in popularity in the United States. But the airplane design was not intuitive for pilots. There were a lot of plane accidents because of a miscalculation of the altimeter. This is where psychology comes in. The way that we relate to objects around us determines the outcome of our interaction with different things. 

Once this was discovered, safety was increased all across the world. 

Later on, during the 1950s more interest and studies were taken in the area of ergonomics as it evolved into fitting the task to the man. In 1963 Grandjean wrote the book titled, “Fitting the Task to the Man”.

In the 1990s people started to apply “Ergonomic Checkpoints” into their company workspaces. 

Since the 90’s more scientific and psychological research has been done and continues to advance and improve work productivity and health. 

Why We Should Care About Ergonomics 

Ergonomics matter because: 

  • If we own our own business and work from home or mobile, we want to be healthy while working and protect our body from injury and 
  • We want to be more productive
  • If we work for someone else we want to remain healthy to earn income 
  • If we own a company and employ people, we want our employees to be safe and more productive

Ergonomics in Today’s Workplace 

The definition of ergonomics has evolved over time. Currently, we can summarize it to be defined as: 

The study of how what we use at work internalizes with our physical and emotional selves. 

And the goal being: 

Increasing output or productivity of work while also increasing the health of the person working. 

The desired outcome is a win/win for the company and the worker. The company wins because: 

  • Increased productivity is tied to increased profits
  • Fewer injuries on the job 
  • Reduced frequency of medical leaves
  • Reduced exposure to lawsuits 
  • Saving time by not having to train new hires due to workers’ extended leave for injuries 
  • Longevity- employees staying longer
  • Increased opportunities to empower team members 

The individual worker wins because: 

  • Increased productivity increase likelihood of raises 
  • Increases the likelihood of promotions 
  • Likely to receive an increase in take-home pay 
  • Fewer injuries = healthy body 
  • Recognition by management 
  • Recognition by peers 
  • Increased self- confidence 
  • Increased self-esteem 

Working from Home – Putting Ergonomics Into Action 

I love working from home and also working on the go like when I am traveling. 

Working from home affords us the best options for implementing ergonomics. We don’t have to get approvals for our choice of a standing desk. ( add a link to standing desk resource page) We don’t have to wait for our request to be granted. 

We can also know more about how our body feels by being able to try different sitting and standing positions, levels, orientations. 

We have a lot more control over our choices about what is going to help us be more productive and injury-free. 

One of my favorite benefits of working from home is being able to move around. I can go from sitting at my desk to standing at my stand up desk, sitting on my coach, to walking around. 

I love the freedom of mobility. 

The more I learn about ergonomics and the way my body responds to different positions when working, the more I am able to remain healthy and strong. 

Company Benefits of Applying Ergonomics in the Workplace 

  • Increased productivity is tied to increased profits 

Ergonomic workspaces help employees be more productive in two ways: 

  1. by minimizing the steps needed to do a task, and
  2. by minimizing the effort it takes to do a task. 

When employees are more focused and productive, they get more tasks done for the same amount of time. This way, the company maximizes the benefit over the cost of labor which in turn translates to more profit.

  • Fewer injuries on the job 

Job-related injuries can either be interior or exterior. Interior injuries include migraines, frequent breakouts, high blood pressure, slower metabolism, and mental or emotional stress. 

On the other hand, aching joints, carpal tunnel syndrome, loss of coordination and stiff muscles are examples of exterior injuries. 

Ergonomic tools can lead to fewer injuries on the job because employees work in an optimal environment based on our natural body dynamics.

  • Reduced frequency of medical leave requests

Medical leave requests are employees’ absences due to sickness or injury.  

The US Department of Labor states: “Currently, there are no federal legal requirements for paid sick leave. For companies subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Act does require unpaid sick leave.” 

Paid or not, when a company gets a lot of requests for medical leave from numerous employees, it might be caused by an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. One way to solve this problem is to assess the workplace if it is ergonomic or conducive to work. 

I remember a friend who was working for a start-up IT company. She told me a lot of people on their team were experiencing migraines and eye problems. 

It was bad for the company because work wasn’t delivered on time and if it was, it was substandard because when the person who was assigned to the task filed for medical leave, the person who would temporarily fill in was not a perfect fit for the job. 

The company noticed this and brought in an ergonomic expert to review the ergonomics of the offices. He discovered poor lighting in the workspaces. 

Since the employees were so absorbed in their work and were so used to their existing conditions, nobody noticed this glaring problem.

A company’s effort to making the workplace ergonomic results in reduced frequency of medical leaves, allowing tasks to be delivered on time and with expected quality. 

  • Reduced exposure to lawsuits 

There are cases when an employee gets injured in the workplace which leads to a lawsuit filed against the company. This is a company owner’s worst nightmare. 

Owners are most all very conscientious about reducing their exposure to lawsuits. 

Looking into the ergonomics of a workplace can prevent lawsuits due to injuries resulting from unsafe or substandard workplaces.

  • Saving time by not having to train new hires due to workers’ extended leave for injuries 

Another reason in having an ergonomic workspace is the amount of resources saved by not having to frequently train and having to turn over tasks to new hires or other members of the team.

Training employees is most often the largest expenditure a company has outside of inventory and salaries. 

Companies will have a lot less turnover among employees if they embrace and create a work space based on ergonomics. 

  • Longevity- employees staying longer

When employees are happier at work, they tend to stay with the company even if there are offers of higher pay from other companies. 

One way to improve the longevity of employees’ tenure is to create a workplace that allows them to work efficiently with less chance of injury.

Tenured employees benefit the company for many reasons. One of them is being a mentor to new hires. This increase company morale. 

Increased employee longevity is beneficial to the company because there is a sense of loyalty that is earned only through years of service.

  • Increased opportunities to empower team members

As employees stay with the company longer, they develop more skills and become qualified to take on more roles. When employees see that there is movement and growth in the company, they become empowered and motivated to perform better. 

Employee Benefits in Using Ergonomic Tools in the Workplace 

  • Increased productivity increases the likelihood of a raise

Using ergonomic tools allows employees to be more productive because they can do more in the same amount of time they spend working. 

As employees’ productivity increase, so does the company’s profits which could in turn lead to incentives and salary increases.  

The more productive an employee is, the more likely it will be that he or she will be given a raise. 

  • Increases the likelihood of promotions 

Ensuring the ergonomics in offices helps employees to stay longer with the company. As they do, either their skillset becomes more specialized or they are able to take on a wider variety of roles within the company. Because of this, their chances to be promoted increases as well.

  • Likely to receive an increase in take-home pay 

The use of ergonomic tools in the office allows employees to be healthier and less prone to body aches and pains. 

The amount of money saved from buying medicine and doctor office visits translates to an increase in take-home pay. 

  • Fewer injuries = healthy body 

You will have fewer injuries if you use ergonomic tools in your workplace. You won’t get so tired from sitting all day in an uncomfortable office chair.Your migraines will decrease and stiffness will begin to subside. You will see these accumulated benefits  You don’t feel exhausted from long hours of sitting and working at your computer. You won’t be suffering from migraines and stiff shoulders.

  • Recognition by management 

When you are able to do more for the same amount of time, and provide high-quality output, you are more likely to be recognized by your boss for your accomplishments and efficiency. 

One of my friends works for an advertising agency. He is a creative.  He spends long hours at work but never complains. He loves his work and goes the extra mile.

His bosses are amazed at how he is able to consistently deliver high-value creatives and never seems to run out of ideas. 

Because of this, he gets the high-ticket clients and key accounts. His secret: he invested in ergonomic tools and takes frequent breaks to keep the creative juices flowing.

  • Recognition by peers 

When you become more productive at work and start to earn incentives and recognition like “employee of the month”, you will gain more popularity among your peers. You’ll notice your co-employees asking for your help and opinions about their output.

  • Increased self- confidence

When you are using ergonomic tools at work, you feel that you are spending more time to improve your posture, your fitness and well-being. These can boost your self-confidence. 

Self- confidence is important for your output. The more confident you are in yourself and in your work, the more you will try new ideas and improve the quality of your work. 

  • Increased self-esteem 

Using ergonomic tools at work leads to increased productivity, which in turn increases your self-esteem, making you feel capable of achieving your goals. 

People with healthy self-esteem are overall, happier people. Happy people smile more. When you smile more, it is contagious. Other people take notice. Then more people around you start smiling. 

Being around happy people also increases your own self-esteem. It is a merry- go- round of a healthy way to work and live. 

How Can You Make Your Workplace More Ergonomic?

  • Ensure that you have sufficient light.
  • If you’re sitting, make sure that your chair is correctly aligned to your desk.
  • If you’re standing, make sure that your desk is the correct height.
  • Position your computers correctly to avoid straining your wrists, shoulders or elbows as you work.
  • Invest in ergonomic tools.

Whether you work at home, work in an office as an employee, or own a business, investing in ergonomic tools will be beneficial for you. 

One of the ways you can create a more ergonomic workspace is to buy a standing desk, a stand-up desk, a sit-stand desk, or a converter desk. I did a lot of research and tried out different brands, styles, and types of ergonomic desks. Click here to find out more about my resource guide.

The bottom line is, ergonomics allow us to work in the most natural and comfortable way possible. Ergonomics matter.

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