What Is Ergonomics, and Why Does It Matter?

What is ergonomics, and why does it matter?

You’ve probably heard of ergonomic office design. Perhaps your workplace has even done an ergonomic study and replaced your chairs and keyboards. With all that time and expense invested in what seems like minor office upgrades, you might be wondering: what is ergonomics, anyway?

Ergonomics is much more than comfortable chairs and squishy wrist rests for typing.

In fact, the science of ergonomics goes far beyond office design and workplace efficiencies.

The whole point of ergonomics is creating tools that are easy for humans to use. When a tool or technology adapts to human behavior (rather than expecting humans to adapt to use it) that’s ergonomic design.

Ergonomics feels a lot like luxury: have you driven those cars with intuitive controls that allow you to make adjustments without taking your eyes off the road? Those thoughtful designs make you feel like the vehicle is an extension of your body.

Ergonomics is all about creating technologies that are intelligently suited for human use.

What Is Ergonomics?

In short, ergonomics sets out to understand how humans work, both physically and mentally, and to design things in such a way that they fit the people who use them.

This takes into account factors like joint strain, strength, and posture, and also the more complex considerations of cognitive ability, age, and emotional strain.

Ergonomic designs are comfortable, of course. They’re intuitive to use, and they minimize frustration, strain, fatigue, and effort so that a person can complete a task without wasting time struggling with a difficult tool.

The whole idea behind ergonomics is that items and technologies that are created for human use should fit with the way humans use them, not that humans should learn how to use the tool as it’s designed.

It just makes sense, doesn’t it? The user is more important than the tool.

Why Does Ergonomics Matter?

Of course it’s nice when your workplace tools are easy and intuitive to use.

While ease of use is nice, though, it’s not the primary reason ergonomic design is so important.

Ergonomically friendly offices reduce risk of injury and illness, increase productivity, and go a long way towards making your company a great place to work.

Even a low level of strain or stress on your body can cause serious injury if it’s sustained for a long period of time.

Painful back problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, bursitis, and stress fractures can all occur as a result of poor ergonomics in your workplace.

On top of that, it’s more difficult to be productive with tools that are difficult to use.

Whether you’re cranky because your back hurts, frustrated because your computer programs are difficult to navigate, or stressed because your computer monitor gives you a fatigue headache, you’re just not getting as much good quality work done in a poorly designed office.

How To Improve Your Ergonomics

Maybe you’re a small business owner who can’t afford to upgrade all of your office furniture.

Or perhaps you work for a larger company that doesn’t make ergonomic design a priority, and you want to take your own cost-effective steps to make your job easier.

It can be done.

Here are some low-cost ergonomic tips to optimize your personal workspace:

1: Keep tools you use regularly in an easy reaching distance, and place less frequently used items farther away.

If your job regularly requires you to answer the phone, keep the phone close to your keyboard so that you don’t have to stretch and reach to pick it up.

Things like paperclips, white out, and tape that you use occasionally, but not everyday, can go in a drawer to free up desk space and reduce clutter.

Reducing the number of items that always sit on your desk actually has a calming effect. The more organized and clean your workspace, the less you’re distracted by clutter and chaos. Prioritize the items you need to reach regularly, arrange them intelligently, and get the rest of your stuff out of the way.

2: Sit with good posture.

An ergonomically designed office chair is supposed to help correct your posture, but you can sit up straight even with an average office chair.

If you feel pressure on your tailbone or your posterior is sore by the end of the day, consider picking up an ergonomic seat cushion from an office supply store.

Though a cushion might not be 100% as effective as a new chair, it’s far less expensive and it will help.

Good posture reduces strain in your back, and it also helps with correct wrist and arm position to minimize risks for injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.

3: Raise your computer monitor height.

Ideally, your computer monitor should sit right about at eye level, with the top few inches of your screen slightly above the height of your eyes.

This reduces neck strain and eye fatigue, and makes it far easier to sit with correct posture.

If your monitor won’t go any higher on its own, you might use a monitor stand that can double as an organizer, or, in a pinch, you could even stack a few books on your desk and place your monitor on top.

4: Place a light behind your computer monitor.

Contrast between a dark environment and a bright screen strains your eyes more than you might realize.

There’s an easy fix, though, and you don’t have to ask the office to install brighter lights.

You can find bias lighting specifically designed to reduce eye strain – it comes in the form of a little LED strip that plugs into your computer’s USB port and sticks to the back of your monitor.

While it’s fine if you want to purchase higher quality LED strips, it’s not advisable to try to replicate this effect with a basic table lamp. Without the right white balance and intensity, putting a lamp behind your computer monitor can actually cause more strain instead of relieving your eyes.

5: Use a real mouse and keyboard instead of your laptop’s built-in features.

Elevating your laptop screen to ergonomic eye level is kind of difficult if you’re typing in the built-in keyboard and using the touchpad for your cursor.

Ergonomic keyboards and mice aren’t the most expensive upgrades you might consider, and even an average mouse is better than a touchpad.

Some things are worth the investment, and if you’ve ever dealt with wrist pain and strained hands at the end of a long day at work, you already know that a decent keyboard is one of those things.

6: Take plenty of breaks.

Give your body and your eyes a break.

Even if you can’t get up and walk around because of workplace rules, stand up and stretch for a second at least once each hour.

Look away from your screen and allow your eyes to focus on something else in the room before returning to work.

When you get a scheduled break, actually leave your desk and walk around. Get your circulation flowing. It’s more important than you might think.

A quick break is refreshing, and it gives you a little bit of relief from the prolonged strain of mental focus and physical effort.

Just think about ergonomics a couple of times each day, and your overall health stands to improve drastically.

Being conscious of ergonomics is one of the most important things about modern office design. Thinking of redesigning your office space? Get some tips about using design to improve productivity here.

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