From treadmill desks to ergonomic keyboards, there are countless ways to “go ergonomic” these days. You can outfit your offices from top to bottom with the latest ergonomic products, have your employees stand up all day, or you can have them sit on medicine balls. Possibly create stretching stations, and hold walking meetings. Model your wellness programs after one you might find in Scandinavia, and hire an instructor to teach desk-side yoga. Consider the psychology of ergonomics.
All of these interventions can — and will be — effective on their own. But they’ll be even more effective when you consider the psychology of ergonomics.
Don’t know what that is? Let’s breakdown just what that term means and why it matters, so that you can ensure your ergonomic interventions produce the greatest results.
What Does the Psychology of Ergonomics Entail?
1. Understanding behavior and how we move through space
When ergonomists sit down to design ergonomic solutions, the first thing they look at is how we move through space. They might have an employee video their movements for a day. Now they can see how office equipment is lining up with the build of that employee’s body. Ergonomists could also look at an employee’s posture. Following this, they can propose behavioral interventions. They also propose equipment solutions that will provide exactly the right kind of support. They will then take a close look at the employee’s behavioral patterns throughout the day. This could include the length of time they’re at their keyboard, the amount of typing they do in a day. Or how hard they press their keys, how often they get up for a stretch break, how much they’re on the phone, etc.
What this means for you in relation to the psychology of ergonomics:
If you have an ergonomist on staff, great! They will take care of much of this for you. But even then, you’ll still need employees to take a close look at their posture and behavioral patterns, as they’re the only ones who can change this. It can be extremely useful to have employees watch the aforementioned videos of themselves. This way, when the ergonomist proposes intervention and solutions. The employee will have a deep understanding of the issues at hand. They will have concrete images to refer back to as a guide for change.
2. Offer ergonomic training and support at the office
Even the most brilliant ergonomic solution is bound to fail when an employee is simply given a product or told to change a behavior. And is then left alone… Many behaviors are ingrained and cannot simply be undone overnight. What’s more, many ergonomic solutions will feel, well, a little weird to a body that’s used to doing things in a different way. It doesn’t matter that the familiar way is the wrong way, and that it will eventually lead to injury, if it hasn’t already. If it’s easier in the present moment, that’s what the employee will continue to do unless pushed, trained, and supported to do otherwise.
What this means for you:
When first implementing an ergonomic solution, provide the employee with full and proper training on how to use that new product or how to better approach that behavior. Whether this is a video, a session with an ergonomist, or a training from a fellow employee, it’s important to invest time into upfront learning. Encourage your employees to train up in manageable increments. It’s a better idea than trying to implement a single ergonomic overhaul all at once.
Once initial training has been completed, provide opportunities for the employee to check-in regularly with their trainer. Now they can track improvements and make any necessary tweaks to their approach. You might even encourage employees to make accountability buddies who are implementing ergonomic solutions of their own. With this support network, employees can swap stories and tips. They will feel like they’re in on it together, which will make them more likely to follow through with they psychology of ergonomics.
3. When thinking ergonomically, consider the whole person
A successfully implemented ergonomics program is never strictly about ergonomics itself. It’s about the whole person! In fact, often it’s about the whole team! Oftentimes that employee’s aching back is about a bad chair — but it’s also about a bad manager, or a heavy workload, or an employee who has lost all passion for their job. While a new, ergonomic chair can certainly help the situation, it will never solve it entirely, and is therefore only a fraction of the solution.
What this means for you:
When employees complain of pain pay attention not just to the complaint at hand, but also to the complaint that’s operating between the lines. Watch for tension on the team, or a change in attitude towards an employee’s work. If need be, pair your ergonomic intervention with a heart to heart between manager and employee. Or possibly a fun trip out to eat to thank everyone for the long hours they’ve been putting in. By considering the wider psychosocial dynamics, you’ll not only provide more effective ergonomic solutions that are more likely to stick, but you’ll also create a healthier, more productive, and possibly creative team.
4. Adopt an organizational mentality of prevention
Hey, organizations are people too! Or at least, they’re made of people, and it helps when every person in that organization adopts a mentality of prevention rather than mitigation. What does that mean, exactly? Not waiting until an employee is crippled with pain or until they require surgery to offer a solution. One that is more often than not more costly than minor interventions would have been in the first place. Look after an employee’s needs now rather than later, and not encouraging employees to work through pain. Nurture employees, and considering them as whole entities, rather than for what they can provide in the here and now.
What this means for you:
Notice something? All of the solutions listed above we’ve detailed throughout this article. In fact, adopting a preventative mentality is key to each one of the previously articulated solutions. The girding is what holds up the whole ergonomic structure. The sooner you can implement a culture of prevention, the sooner you’ll start seeing results from your ergonomics programs.
To summarize the psychology of ergonomics:
Ergonomics and the psychology of the workplace aren’t separate items to consider; they exist as complementary arms of the same being. By considering the deeper psychology of ergonomics, your interventions are far more likely to have success, and to create a return on your investment.