In our day to day lives, we all experience all sorts of strains, pains, and minor discomforts. They can be big sudden ones, like lifting a box wrong, to the slow and tiny ones like having a light that’s just a little bit too bright. When it comes to dealing with these issues, human beings are simultaneously evolved to focus on problems, but also able to adjust to minor issues until we don’t even notice them anymore.
To safeguard your long-term health, it can seem like avoiding major accidents is the best way to go, but in truth, you should be paying special attention to the little pains you learn to ignore. They may start off as minor annoyances, but left unchecked, they slowly compound tiny issues until you’re suddenly dealing with a repetitive stress issue, and there’s no going back.
Ergonomics is a field of research, planning, and operations designed to address these problems. When it’s done right, work gets easier and more comfortable without needing major transformations. Though it’s been around for decades, many people still don’t understand why ergonomics is important, and even fewer grasp how to apply it to your life. In this article, we’ll discuss what ergonomics is, what it can do for you, and how you can start seeing benefits almost immediately.
What is Ergonomics
First, it’s good to know that ergonomics actually has two different names. The second one is “human factors”. You may be wondering, why would something that sounds so technical have another name that sounds so generic? However, if you understand the reason for that second name, you get some insight into what ergonomics is all about.
The reason they called it human factors is because it’s a field of study dedicated to understanding the best way to work with how the human body and mind actually operate. It emerged as an idea for organizing offices and workforces in the 50’s, but the word ergonomics has been in existence since the 1800s, so it’s got some history!
The general objective is, according to the chartered institute of ergonomics and human factors, to make the world a better, safer, and more sustainable place in which to live and work. According to them, modern workplaces and homes, while designed to provide for baseline livability, overlook important factors. These factors can reduce mistakes, reduce injury, improve comfort, and overall make work an easier experience.
That’s what ergonomics is all about, but what does that actually mean we’re supposed to do? This is where many people get a little tripped up. Having a safer and more comfortable workplace sounds great, who wouldn’t want that? But once they get into the idea, they don’t know how to make it a reality.
In truth ergonomics takes many forms. The most well known is when people talk about ergonomic hardware. This is chairs, desks, computer mice, lamps, and other daily office devices that, when built properly and with the right controls, provide for employees to exert greater control over their workspace. Usually, when people think of ergonomics, they imagine devices like this.
However, ergonomics is so much more than that. At its heart, ergonomics is good design. It’s a workplace that’s been prepared to eliminate common points of friction. You have experienced the benefits of ergonomics every day without even realizing it. From the grocery store to riding on an airplane to waiting in a doctor’s office, ergonomic design has been applied to improve comfort and usability.
Why Should You Care About Ergonomics?
It’s important to know, ergonomics is not a luxury. Because so many people think of fancy keyboards when they think of ergonomics, they miss how valuable it is. Ergonomics is key to keeping your job livable and avoid long-term injuries.
Repetitive stress disorders (RSDs) are no joke
Strain that develops in your wrists, neck, shoulders, and back can turn into pain and mobility issues that stick with you your entire life. These are just some of the RSDs that good office design can help you avoid. One common thread among all of them? Common prevention plans (tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, etc) recommend using ergonomic equipment and principles.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: This happens when the blood vessels and nerves in your wrist are getting uncomfortably pinched on a regular basis. If spotted early, treatment and prevention are simple, but if left unchecked, it may require surgery, and total recovery may not be possible. CTS afflicts literally millions of people, with hundreds of thousands of surgeries each year.
Tendonitis: Your muscles attach to your bones via your tendons, and they rely on being free to move comfortably and elastically. When your body position is slightly off, they can tear slowly over time. Like carpal tunnel, if you don’t treat it quickly it can last forever
Bursitis: Another inflammation issue, this time with the cushions in your joints. Sometimes icing can make it go away, but it can become a daily recurrence meaning either daily icings or the need for medical intervention
Muscle Spasms: When your muscles get contracted too much too often, they may develop spasms. These can be painful strong contractions that leave you unable to work or even sit up straight.
Even Without Stress Disorders, Your Workspace Can Be Draining
All of these issues and more are potential threats in the modern workplace, and they can come out of nowhere. However, designing a safe office is about more than just avoiding tendonitis. One study revealed that 30% of workers would feel better if their workplace included ergonomic design and half of them would be more productive. There are serious gains to be made when applying these ideas.
Everyone has experience with the workday feeling like more and more of a drag. You may start off strong, but by the end of the day you’re exhausted, even if all you did was sit at a computer. You head home and barely have the energy or comfort to relax or spend time with loved ones.
We all have hard days, and sometimes offices go through hard times. But when every day ever is an exhausting slog, you and your coworkers are probably the victims of a poorly designed office. Everything, from the chairs to the brightness of the lights to even the position of your computer monitor, everything is combining to drain your energy just that little bit more.
Life is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
All of these problems emerge slowly over time. We tolerate them because we think that a little bit of discomfort is no big deal. But as should be clear by now, these things compound. Little problems turn into life-changing issues.
Think about how much time you spend in your chair at work every week. You may be sitting in that thing interacting with your computer and desk set up for 40+ hours a week. Now imagine that someone told you that you were going to be experiencing even the slightest bit of pain the whole time, every day. You’d refuse to accept.
Even though someone didn’t tell you that, it’s still the case. You are in a little bit of pain every day in multiple ways. The great tragedy about all of this is that it doesn’t have to be this way, we know it doesn’t have to be this way, and there are clear actions you and your office can take to turn things around.
How Do You Apply Ergonomics to Your Life?
If you are interested in learning more about ergonomics and how it can improve your experience at home and at work, there are lots of excellent resources, including this blog, that you can use. These will give you tips on how to troubleshoot and steps you can take, big and small, to start addressing the issues.
Do an Honest Inventory
As we’ve said, human’s have an amazing capacity to overlook small problems that occur on a regular basis. You have probably developed several micro habits that are designed to address minor pains and aches you were experiencing. You may not even be aware of most of them.
For example, I used to do all of my work on my laptop. When you learn more about a good ergonomic setup, you learn that it’s very hard to have a body-friendly desk situation with a laptop as your primary work station. Something I started to do, I was straining my head forward reflexively to get my face just a little bit closer to the monitor.
This started to put strains on my neck and shoulders, and I didn’t even know it was happening. Someone else had to comment on it before I could take action. That’s the kind of investigation you should take. How do you sit in your seat, adjust your mouse and monitor, what are your shoulders, neck, and back doing? How often are you shifting around to reduce pressure? Are you giving yourself time and space to stretch? Once I increased the size of the text on my monitor, it helped a lot.
In General, Be More Conscious of Your Posture
This will take some practice, but it will be well worth it. We all develop bad habits when we aren’t looking. The goal here is not to constantly be stressing about what your body is doing, but every once in a while, look at your posture. Are you comfortable? Are you in a healthy pose? If not, start trying to take small actions that encourage a healthier position over time.
Look Up Healthy Behaviors
There are several small steps we can all be taking to make our work habits a little healthier. From taking a small walk and stretch breaks to something a simple as the 20/20/20 rule, if you learn these micro habits, we guarantee greater comfort.
Talk to Your Supervisor
People have a hard time talking to others about an issue like this. It can feel like complaining about nothing, especially when we assume no one else has an issue. I guarantee you are not the only one experiencing discomfort with their current work environment. Furthermore, the pain to you (and the cost to your employer) is well worth the investment.
Repeated studies have shown 1) that workplace injuries cost employers billions of dollars every year 2) the indirect costs on productivity far outweigh the direct costs when it comes to repetitive stress disorders 3) Repetitive stress injuries are one of the most common sources of workers compensation issues.
Talk to your supervisor about issues you are noticing. See if there are any resources already available that you can start using to improve your setup. Ask if there are any plans to make some small changes. If you approach with an intent to have a healthy conversation, it can feel productive and empowering to work with your boss on this issue.
What do Good Ergonomics Products Look Like
If you are starting to think that this is something you’d like to take action on independently, there are plenty of great products out there that can make a world of difference. Figuring out which one to focus on, we would make the following recommendations.
Having a chair that leans back isn’t enough. Truly ergonomic products are ones that have options to fine-tune just about every aspect of the user experience. We have several posts on this site about excellent ergonomic chairs, for example, you should give them a read. Understanding all the different parts of a chair that can be adjusted and why is crucial to understanding what makes good design and what will lead to the best experience for you.
A good ergonomic product should do more than just be less painful than your current solution. There should be the absolute minimum amount of stress placed on every part of your body. You should not have any painful angles or exertions, because all of those are unsustainable. The best ones are products that work with the way your body naturally positions itself and moves.
Made for Multiple Body Types
This is related to adjustability. Good ergonomic products are designed to be so adjustable that just about anyone can be comfortable sitting in it, from 5’2” to 6’4”, from under 100 pounds to being on the heavier side. This is also part of the cost savings for good ergonomics programs, because it saves you the trouble of having to by a specific chair for every employee.
Investing In Your Long-Term Health Is Always Worth It
Ergonomics has been around as a term for over 100 years, yet still people struggle to understand what it is and how valuable it can be. For the last 60+ years modern workplaces have been struggling to consistently understand and apply this discipline. Some sectors have improved dramatically, but there’s still a long way to go.
Having the right equipment doesn’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use it. Expert information and trained experience like you’ll find on this blog won’t just help you find the right chair, they’ll help you understand why it’s so important and how best to take advantage of all it has to offer. Be sure to check out our other posts to keep learning!
We all struggle with minor discomforts, but we don’t have to. If you can start using the information and ideas in this post, you are on your way to avoiding long-term health issues and living a less stressful professional life. I promise it will be worth it.