Ergonomic desks and workspaces are critical to understand to ensure the health and wellbeing of your employees. Allow your teams to produce their best work by learning about ergonomics.
The rise of ergonomic issues - Followed by the surge in remote working and learning, keyword search related to “back pain” on Google are at an all-time high.
What are ergonomics - Ergonomics is the science and design of workspaces. It best suits the needs of employees and limits injury risks or fatigue from being too stationary at work.
Why are ergonomics important - The lack of an ergonomic environment at home during remote work is driving 24.3% of workers to return to the office.
Benefits of an ergonomic desk and workspace - With an ergonomically well-designed desk and workspace, studies found an increase in worker productivity, reduction in potential costs, improved engagement, and quality of work.
Ergonomics technology - Keyboards and the mouse are the most frequently used input tools for computers; and ergonomic input tools limit injuries risks and improve efficiency.
Our take - A workspace with appropriate lightings, ergonomic chairs and ergonomic desks lead to productive and satisfied teams.
In our recent webinar “Debunked: Remote working myths”, one of our panellists, Tyler Sellhorn — Head of Remote at Polygon Technology — highlighted “the importance of investing in yourself and your at-home work set-up [especially in remote work settings]”.
As hybrid and remote working has become the norm, it’s been proven that employee productivity increased amongst other benefits.
But does the productive work done at home come at the expense of an employee's physical wellbeing?
There are substantial positive physical impacts of having an ergonomic workplace, as well as dramatically influencing employee happiness and productivity. In this blog, the rise of ergonomic issues in the workplace will be discussed, highlighting the appropriate guidelines to follow, equipment to invest in, and environment to establish for a workplace and desk that best fits the needs of employees.
In a recent study published by Texas A&M University, it was found that the average student spends 4.4 hours each day on their devices — laptops, tablets, or phones — while on a couch, without a desk or chair.
"Now that we are moving toward hybrid and/or remote workspaces for our jobs, college students are taking habits formed in dorm and flat rooms during college into young adulthood as employees in home offices," — Mark Benden, professor and researcher at Texas A&M University.
This is especially true over the past years with the surge of remote work due to the Pandemic.
Google data (shown in the figure below) demonstrates that the worldwide searches for the term “back pain” are at an all-time high. Many speculate possible correlations between the rise of remote work — working and studying from home without proper setups — and aching spines around the globe.
As humans, our bodies are not designed to sit and be stationary for an extended period of time. Instead, we are designed to be upright, walking, running, and on the move. Sitting and standing still for extended periods can be detrimental to our health and physical wellbeing.
Therefore, raises studies of ergonomics — which is the science of fitting workplaces to the needs of the users, to ensure the interaction between workspaces and humans promote efficiency and comfort.
According to the International Ergonomics Association Executive Council, ergonomic design combines applied psychology and engineering to gain unique insight by studying environmental factors, biomechanics, and anthropometric measurements to help further match organisational and human needs.
Ergonomic designs have been proven to improve workers’ potential to produce quality work by helping them complete their tasks without physical strains.
When remote workers operate with poor ergonomics setups and postures, the indirect impact on a company’s bottom line can be surprisingly significant. The Bureau of Labour Statistics found that MSDs as the most common type of workplace injury, amounting to around 30% of worker compensation costs.
In a recent campaign, “Mind your back” surveying 1,000 adults across the United Kingdom aimed to see how the COVID-19 pandemic changed their daily habits. It was found that 63.7% of the respondents reported newfound back issues since working from home. From which, lower back pain was a common response — which is often caused by poor posture.
24.3% of the respondents reported with discomfort from the back pain also reported sleeping difficulties, and the combination of which is driving them to return to working in the office.
Postures are important when it comes to working at a desk for over 8 hours a day. The graphic below demonstrates guidelines for optimum posture.
For more information on appropriate postures, click here for full report.
Studies have found that by systematically reducing ergonomic risk factors will increase employee productivity, decrease implicit health costs, improve employee engagement as well as work quality. Ultimately, benefiting both employees and companies.
A well-design ergonomic desk and workplace allows for good posture, less exertion, fewer repetitive motions and better heights and reaches, reduced awkward postures and high-force requirements. By doing so, workstations become more efficient and comfortable; resulting in a 25% increase in productivity, according to a case study consisting of 250 firms.
Reduction of Musculoskeletal Disorders
Reduction in incidence rate
Reduction in lost workdays
Reduction in worker’s compensation costs
Reduction in cost per claim
Reduction in turnover related costs
Decrease in labour costs
It has been proven that well-designed workspaces significantly reduce fatigue, frustration and anger for workers on a day-to-day basis. Over time, this can substantially reduce employee turnover, decrease absenteeism, improve morale and increase employee involvement.
Employees notice when their company is putting forth their best efforts to ensure the health and safety of their employees. By investing in an ergonomic desk and workstation, it will not only improve productivity, but also make employees feel valued.
According to case studies conducted by Washington State Department of Labour and Industry, an average 48% reduction in employee turnover and 58% average reduction in employee absenteeism was found when firms switch to better ergonomic desks, workspaces and setups.
Poor ergonomic desks and work spaces lead to frustrated and fatigued employees. Under these conditions, it comes naturally that employees are unable to produce their best work.
Conversely, it was found that 67% average reduction in scrap and error with better designed offices. This is partially important with physical and mechanical work, lower quality of work is the source for important safety conversion.
There are various input devices, the most common being keyboards and mouse. There are many ergonomic keyboards and keyboard trays in the market that have wrist supports to help keep wrists in a neutral, almost straight position instead of being angled upwards.
According to experts, a keyboard should be placed just below elbow level, laying flat on the desk, or gently sloping away. Your elbows should be at an open angle, which helps to relax your forearms and shoulders.
Ergonomic keyboards for two-handed typists are typically constructed in a V shape, allowing the hands to rest at a more natural angle, they are designed to minimize muscle strain, fatigue, and other problems.
For remote workers with extended typing time, investing in an ergonomic keyboard might be a good decision.
Here are some of the best ergonomic keyboards ranked by The New York Times.
The mouse should be at the same surface and height as the keyboard and easy to reach. According to ergonomic experts, users are encouraged to alternate mouse usage between the left and right hands — to prevent using the same muscle group for an extended period of time, thereby reducing the risk of injury.
Based on Logic tech’s research, it was found that ergonomic mice that promote a more upright hand and wrist posture (like a handshake) better match our complex anatomy and can put less strain on our muscles. An ergonomic mouse can play an important role in promoting comfort.”
List of reviews for different ergonomic keyboards:
Low worker morale
High employee error rates
Inability to select and match correct colours
Dim lights require employees' eyes to work hard to focus and see clearly. Overtime, this puts strain on the eyes, and employees may experience drowsiness or lose their sense of motivation. All of which, can result in an overall reduction of work productivity. In a recent neurological study, researchers found that dim lights change the structure of the brain, where it hurt one's ability to learn.
However, it was also found that dim lights are effective in creating a sense of comfort, relaxation and helps employees break free from work stress. This is why company companies user dimmer warm lights in their break rooms.
Cool lighting lowers the production of melatonin —which is used by the brain to time circadian rhythms and regulate sleep— in turn reduces fatigue, improves alertness, mood, and productivity. For this reason, cool lights are most commonly used and preferred in main office space areas where high alertness and brain stimulation are integral.
Studies have shown that natural sunlight is the most conducive to a productive workplace. In addition to what cool light offers — which increases productivity and inhibits melatonin production — exposure to natural lighting provides employees with much-needed vitamin D, which also helps to alleviate stress in workers.
However, as the day progresses and weather conditions vary, there are uncertainties and variability in intensity and amount of natural light throughout the work hours and for evening shifts.
Companies can invest in natural light harvesting sensors that will dim applicable light sources, such as LED fixtures, that are collected to the natural list harvesters to ensure the lighting remains at a constant level throughout the working day.
By investing in ergonomic chairs, it can dramatically improve employee posture, reduce back pain and ultimately improve productivity.
The most distinctive differentiator of an ergonomic chair is their lumbar adjustment (both height and depth) for the different users with different lower back curvatures. With this additional back support, ergonomic chairs can help prevent or alleviate lower back pain and neck pain. These are some of the most common body pains office workers have to battle with from sitting through long working hours.
An ergonomic desk should help shorten the amount of time an employee spends sitting down or make sitting down more comfortable. Modern ergonomic desks have a feature of adjustable heights —“sit stand” desks.
Rather than remaining seated for several hours at a time, employee are able to switch between sitting and standing to reduce to adjust postures, and change working position while working. Research from the University of Waterloo recommended a sit-to-stand ratio between 1:1 and 1:3 for individuals with lower-back pain.
Moreover, a good ergonomic desk setup should be separated into three main areas: typical work, occasional work, and non-working areas. This way, employees can remain in good posture while with their technology inputs in the usual work area. Other documents can be put in the occasional work areas that are easily in reach for better work efficiency. Conversely, their coffee, tea, phone, photographs should be positioned in the non-working areas to limit distractions and context switching during work.
Companies need to recognize the importance of ergonomics to value the health and wellbeing of employees. Not only does it prevent issues that might arise in the long-term, such as employee burnout and health issues — which adds up to be much more costly — employees feel valued and will produce better quality work.
If you would like to read more about how ergonomics affect work quality, you can check out the list of studies at the very end and decide if you want to implement an ergonomic workplace.
📚 Ergonomic desk and workspace reading list
Does Ergonomics Improve Product Quality and Reduce Costs? A Review Article
Study on Ergonomics in Improving Labour Productivity
Do ergonomics improvements increase computer workers' productivity?: an intervention study in a call centre
The productivity benefits of office ergonomics interventions