The Key to Fostering a Happy and Healthy Workforce

ergonomicsHumana and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business recently concluded a six-year study that found that employees who are happy at work not only perform better, but also cost less. HR departments are perpetually scouring for new incentives, processes, events, and environmental improvements to foster the health and well-being of their employees.

Studies show that ergonomic office environments increase employee’s satisfaction and productivity, but creating an ergonomic work space is not simply about buying an ergonomic keyboard. There is much more to it than that.

Ergonomic Chairs

Most office employees spend the majority of their day seated, whether it is seated at their desks, sitting in team meetings, or sitting down with their boss or colleagues. One of the most effective ergonomic investments you can make is in a high quality chair.

OSHA advises that ergonomic chairs reduce “exposures to awkward postures, contact stress, and forceful exertions.”  And the NIH advises to opt for chairs that are fully adjustable.

Look for chairs with adjustable seat height, depth, and back. A chair that has many options will allow for each employee to have an individual fit. These independent adjustments include: seat and back height and seat depth adjustment that will accommodate people with shorter or longer legs. A back tilt feature that allows people to sit up when working is key. Many chairs are designed to rock back, or are fixed angle back with a ratchet lumbar pillow, but the secret to supporting upright posture is having a chair with a back that tilts forward and locks into position. A dial in lumbar support will offer daily options based on your backs needs. Mesh backs are great, but mesh is not ideal for the seat because the chair frame may hit the back of the leg and can become a compression point and circulation inhibitor. A seat that fits the desk height as well as the person’s height and weight capacity are important for the best concentration while working. The goal is to have a chair where the back support fits the employee’s back like a glove when computing, which full adjustability allows.

Standing Workstations

It has been argued by CNN, Forbes, and Inc. that “sitting is the new smoking.” Our sedentary lifestyles, even in fully adjustable ergonomic chairs, are harming our health. A great way to combat the many hours we spend seated without compromising productivity (and quite possibly even increasing it) is with a sit-stand desk or workstation.

These dynamic solutions are fatigue-busters as they enable workers to easily perform their duties in sitting or standing postures. However, not all sit-stand desks have a correct height range. For example, some allow standing but do not go low enough to support healthy postures when seated. Sit-stand desks offering a full height range to fit all body sizes ideally adjusts from 24-51 inches. A desk that adjusts easily will encourage employees to take advantage of this feature, as it offers a nice change of pace. Sitting and standing throughout the day means better circulation, more energy, and more productivity.

Ergonomic Lighting

The lighting in the workplace can also be optimized for healthier, happier employees. Position monitors perpendicular to windows for best ergonomic effect. Computers that are directly in front of windows can weaken vision as the eyes continuously need to adjust from the bright daylight to the screen.

Adding ergonomic task lighting focuses the light on the task at hand, reduces glare, and lessens eye strain. Task lighting should be fully adjustable, with multiple pivot points, versatile intensity, and the right footprint for the desk. To minimize glare on monitors, consider adding glare filters.

The best type of office lighting is full spectrum lighting, which is often referred to as the “happy light”, because it supports the production of serotonin and can help to eliminate depression.

Other Ergonomic Tools

When creating an ergonomic environment for employees, consider tools like monitor arms, laptop stands, wrist pads, and anti-fatigue mats, which can make employees more comfortable and content because these tools encourage healthy working postures. A monitor arm or laptop stand that is properly positioned and easily adjustable can greatly improve neck and shoulder aches.

Finding ways to encourage workers to take breaks, stretch, hydrate, and walk will help to increase alertness and circulation. Consider office yoga sessions, basketball games, or group walks.

By encouraging motion, you will foster the kind of emotion that makes employees enjoy their workplace (and appreciate their HR departments!)

Ergonomics for health and happiness

Team-building activities are good for morale. Events can rejuvenate the corporate spirit. Incentives inspire results. However, the ongoing investment in an ergonomic workplace may produce the greatest results of all, as it constantly affects employees during the time while they are at work.

Providing ergonomic furniture results in a satisfied, healthy, productive, and efficient workforce. And when employees feel valued, they are happier to come to work and even more devoted to their employers.

Karen Burke is the founder and president of Kare Products, specializing in active ergonomic solutions. She has 30 years’ experience in ergonomic product design and consulting.

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