Raise Your Productivity

During the 1990s at the height of the tech-heavy "dot com" era, the buzz around carpal tunnel syndrome initiated a great deal of attention on ergonomics and ushered in a new way of thinking: It is more cost effective to implement solutions that help avoid workplace injuries than to suffer the high cost of worker's compensation and lost time. The result was a surge of companies providing employees with wrist rests for their keyboards. Was this enough to ensure the ongoing well-being and resulting productivity of the workforce? The resounding answer is that we need to do far more, and the stakes are very high.

With the advent of computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), "texting" via cellphones, and the BlackBerry phenomenon, most businesses are forced into addressing all matters in "real time" to compete in the marketplace. Today's office environment is more diverse and puts more demand on workers' time, resulting in longer work hours and more stress in our lives and upon our bodies. With the increasing amount of time employees are spending on the job, the need for ergonomic office solutions has never been more apparent than it is today.

According to a recent study on the U.S. workplace, better office design can lead to increased productivity and bigger profits. But employees think corporate America is too focused on design costs, rather than long-term value. The research indicates an overwhelming 90 percent of U.S. office workers believe better design leads to better overall performance. Respondents said, on average, they could increase their work output by 21 percent if their office environments were better designed. Moreover, nearly half of the respondents noted better workplace design would make them amenable to longer workdays.

The results, however, indicate a disconnect. According to the survey, employers understand the connection between office environments and company performance better than employees give them credit for: Nearly 90 percent of top executives stated there is indeed a connection between better office environment and a better bottom line. Companies are seeing that the benefits of creating a truly ergonomic office environment are twofold. Investing in the health and well-being of employees boosts morale, which, in turn, leads to increased productivity.

Recently, one of the largest providers of digital mapping systems--and the worldwide leader in its industry- -was faced with a major dilemma. The company was dropped by its worker's compensation insurance carrier for submitting too many claims: Nearly 200 employees reported injuries. Repetitive motion disorders and back problems, common in today's workplace where many employees spend a significant portion of their day sitting at their desk working at a computer, were reported in excessive numbers.

Further complicating the situation, the company operates two work shift s, significantly increasing the challenges of configuring shared workstations to make them comfortable for all. Additionally, as the business grew, many employees began working longer hours to accommodate the increased workload.

This "wake up call" from the insurance company has motivated many similarly challenged companies to adopt a long-term strategy for improving employee wellness and productivity while reducing worker's comp costs.

By bringing together members from human resources, operations, facilities, and information technology departments; securing strong support from senior management; and utilizing outside resources, including occupational and physical therapists, ergonomic evaluation specialists, and occupational health physicians, an organization can more easily identify the top worker's comp issues. A comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to employee wellness will result not only in a dramatic decrease in worker's comp claims, but also in decreased absenteeism and increased productivity.

Bringing Ergonomics to Life

A key component of the program implemented by this digital mapping company was the installation of heightadjustable workstations, which give employees the ability to easily adjust their work centers as needed during the day and as they arrive for each shift . Adjustable work centers are especially effective in multiple-shift operations because fl exibility of the work surface height allows for comfortable and efficient posture of the upper arms, forearms, and hands and even allows for standing work.

Properly addressing the problem of employee injuries in today's workplace requires a company-wide collaborative effort. Ergonomics continues to evolve, and companies must look at it as a long-term commitment. The investment in the health and well-being of employees will, in the long run, guarantee a strong return on investment.

This article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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