What is office ergonomics?
Office ergonomics is the science of designing and arranging workstations and office environments so that they fit your employees and the job they’re doing. Ergonomics is considered a scientific discipline, and professional ergonomists study the way people’s environments impact their short-term and long-term comfort and health.
Ergonomic stressors are the focus of any ergonomic design: physical force needed to do a task, posture and repetition. Good office ergonomics aim to reduce needed force, adjust awkward postures and limit repetitive strain by using tested, research-driven designs and policies.
Ergonomists make recommendations for optimal workplace designs by reviewing data from multiple scientific disciplines:
- Psychology: The way people perceive workplace activities, communicate with coworkers, learn new skills, form habits and adapt to changing tasks influences the effectiveness of different office equipment.
- Environmental physics:Light level, temperature, noise and other sensory input from the environment is a key aspect of ergonomics. Determining the ideal environmental conditions for your company is just as important as having the right equipment.
- Biomechanics:Applied biology, medicine and physics helps ergonomists understand how to design for people with disabilities and remove physical limitations in the office.
- Anatomy: Ergonomists also study body sizes, shapes and proper anatomical positions to help prevent work-related strain and injuries.
Why is ergonomics important in the workplace?
Ergonomics is important because it protects employees’ physical health, mental health and personal happiness. Well-designed ergonomic equipment can prevent overexertion, repetitive injuries and chronic pain issues. These physical problems for employees could end up being costly for employers, especially if they file a complaint about poor working conditions.
An ergonomic workspace also has the potential to boost employee engagement, productivity and morale. If an employee can’t get comfortable at their desk or has joint pain from a poorly-positioned keyboard or monitor, they won’t be able to reach their full potential and give their work the attention it needs. Even if an employee is not at risk of injury, discomfort can wear them down over time. Comfortable office design that suits their needs helps to make the workplace a positive environment that employees are excited to visit each day.
Finally, an ergonomic office can make your workplace culture more inclusive for people of all abilities and allows employers to give disabled employees reasonable accommodations to do their job. Employers with an ergonomic mindset are able to problem-solve to find ways for people with limited vision, hearing, strength, size and dexterity to succeed.
Other benefits of ergonomic workspaces include:
- Reduction in sick leave by minimizing injuries and fatigue
- Fewer workers’ compensation claims
- Employees feel valued and appreciated when their workstation is comfortable
- Leads to better job satisfaction
Elements of an ergonomic workspace
Modern offices use many of the same types of equipment to complete essential administrative and workplace tasks. Each workplace has its unique challenges when it comes to ergonomics, but if you’re interested in improving office ergonomics at your company, start with these elements:
If your employees spend a lot of time sitting down, their chairs can have a big impact on the overall ergonomics of their workspace. Factors like cushioning, height and lumbar support influence an employee’s posture, giving office chairs a direct impact on the spine, hips, shoulders and neck.
When looking for office chairs to help you create an ergonomic desk setup, consider the following:
- Base: Look for chairs that have at least five castors to ensure that the chair is stable and won’t tip over.
- Seat: Seat height should be adjustable to accommodate employees of different heights. Employees should be able to sit so that their thighs are parallel to the ground. Additionally, the seat pan (i.e., the flat surface area of the chair) should ideally have a feature that allows it to tilt backwards and forwards and should have a rounded front edge to reduce pressure on the backs of the thighs.
- Backrest: Backrests should be adjustable so that the lumbar support can support the lower back. It should also be able to recline slightly to reduce stress on the lower back.
- Armrests: Armrests are not a requirement for ergonomic chairs. However, if you do opt for armrests, make sure they’re adjustable and have rounded edges. Armrests that pivot inward can also help support the entire length of an employee’s forearm.
Encourage employees to adjust the height of their chairs so that their feet rest flat on the floor. Footrests can be a good option if an employee can’t rest their feet flat on the floor. Employees should also adjust armrests so that their arms rest gently on the armrests with their shoulders relaxed.
Replacing chairs with exercise balls is a popular option for many modern offices, but it may cause more harm than good. In fact, one study found that exercise balls may actually increase levels of discomfort. For an ergonomic workspace, it may be best to stick with traditional office chairs that meet all of the above requirements.
Screen position, keyboard design and mouse placement are key for the comfort of employees who work on computers. Monitors and accessories (e.g., telephone, stapler) need to have comfortable proximity so that the employee can easily reach the tools they use the most while sitting. Additionally, employees can avoid eye strain from being too close to the monitor or looking at it from an uncomfortable angle.
To help create an ergonomic workstation, instruct employees to tilt their monitor back slightly so the bottom of the screen is closer to them than the top and adjust the monitor height so the top of the screen is at or below eye level. Monitors should also be about an arm’s length away from employees (about 20 inches). Anti-glare screens that reduce light reflected into the eyes and blue light glasses can also help with eye strain.
For laptops, a laptop stand or tray can help employees achieve the right screen height.
Ergonomic desk setup
Desk height and design also has an impact on how employees position themselves for long periods of time. Cramped desks with limited legroom or poor storage can cause employees to sit in awkward positions and become disorganized and stressed. Well-designed, ergonomic desk setups allow employees to move naturally and sit in an aligned position that reduces stress on their bodies.
Make sure there’s enough room for your employees’ knees, thighs and feet. Consider investing in adjustable or standing desks so employees can choose a desk height that suits them. If the desk doesn’t have a rounded edge, try providing employees with a soft foam or gel wrist rest to reduce pressure on the wrist.
Keyboard and mouse
An ergonomic workspace includes a mouse that’s on the same surface level as the keyboard and within easy reach while sitting down. Encourage employees to sit at their workstation with the “gh” keys on the keyboard aligned with their belly button. Proper keyboard and mouse ergonomics can help prevent injuries like tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Assess the sights, lighting, sounds and smells that your employees encounter in the workplace. Workplace ambiance is more flexible than other ergonomic elements, so talk to your employees about what they need to be productive. Some employees may excel with light music playing in the background and a pleasant air freshener, while others may need silence and a scent-free zone due to fragrance sensitivity. Noise-cancelling headphones, essential oil diffusers and indoor plants are all good ways to improve the ambience of your office and help employees relax.
How to improve office ergonomics
Follow these steps to start improving ergonomics in your office:
1. Identify issues
Before you start making changes to office ergonomics, spend time observing your employees and noting the areas of the workplace that cause the most discomfort. Interview your staff and ask for feedback, then spend time in different workspaces yourself to get an inside perspective on productivity barriers. Perform a risk assessment and study past workplace injuries to see which risk factors are most important at your business.
2. Encourage movement
Static positions where the body doesn’t move result in fatigue. People need to be able to shift positions occasionally to stay comfortable and focused. Encouraging regular movement breaks allows your employees to reduce long-term fatigue. Some ways you can promote movement are to:
- Create spacious workstations.
- Provide adjustable chairs and desks.
- Centralize shared equipment.
- Encourage employees to do desk exercises (e.g., stretching, leg raises, chair dips).
3. Invest in ergonomic equipment
Purchase ergonomic keyboards, wrist rests, footrests, lumbar pillows and other tools that make it easier for employees to accomplish the tasks they do the most. Look into sound-proofing to reduce distractions and natural light lamps for livening up indoor spaces.