There’s a famous quote from Benjamin Disraeli: “Change is inevitable. Change is constant.”
Time and again this saying has proven true, from fashion and music trends to technology and medical advancements. Yet in each of these examples, whether it be the retail manufacturing facility for clothing or the start-up company in Silicon Valley, few account for the workplace itself.
Today, several offices that were once a maze of cubicles have removed the walls in favor of an open and collaborative office environment, and private offices have now been retrofitted to conference rooms for team strategy sessions. But it isn’t just the office space itself that is changing. Now more than ever, employers are putting a greater emphasis on workplace ergonomics to ensure a worker’s immediate environment is the ideal setting for not only better productivity, but also to improve their overall health and wellness.
“I’ve always felt that if you’re comfortable at work, if you’re going home at the end of the day not feeling achy, sore, exhausted or fatigued, then that’s a really good thing,” says Tiffany Passmore. “To me, that speaks just as much about wellness as offering on-site exercise classes or healthy vending options.”
Passmore became president of Wellness Programs with Value in February 2017. With a mission to actively promote health and wellness and to assist individuals to maximize their productivity by maintaining and improving their overall health, Passmore says the company perfectly aligned with her passion for educating others about ergonomics.
But while workplace trends have been shifting toward an emphasis on ergonomics and employee health and wellness, Passmore says there is still a stigma that surrounds how to improve the workplace environment, which is mainly due to an association with high cost. As Passmore explains, though, simple changes in ergonomics can be done in a cost-effective way, and not every assessment from WPV involves suggestions to buy an expensive chair or new standing work station.
Instead, Passmore’s approach is to take “the scare out of it” and let employers know that there are DIY options for ergonomics that don’t involve new equipment at all.
“That just really opened up the door to have open dialogue with employees about ergonomics,” she says.
To start, Passmore first looks at an employee’s office workstation to ensure the weight of their arms are supported in some way. This is done by seeing that their chair has arm rests adjusted at a 90-degree angle so that no stress is pulling on their shoulders. If the chair doesn’t have arm rests, Passmore recommends raising the chair so that their arms are perpendicular with the desk.
“If your arms aren’t supported, then the muscles of your neck and your shoulders get pulled on and then by the end of the day they’re very tense,” she says.
That strain on muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons are referred to as musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs, and according to the United States Department of Labor, ergonomics helps reduce the severity of work-related MSDs while also increasing productivity. Work-related MSDs are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, MSD cases accounted for 33 percent of all worker injury and illness cases in years past.
In addition to improving comfort and posture, Passmore recommends minimal head movements. While she praises the use of dual monitors in the workplace, she also warns that several people are using their dual monitors incorrectly in that they are positioned poorly and cause active head turning while having to constantly shift focus. Over time, this takes a toll on the neck and eyes, which can lead to headaches and other aches and pains.
To help avoid eye strain, Passmore educates employers on the 20-20-20 rule. It states that after looking at a screen for 20 consecutive minutes, look at least 20 feet in the distance for 20 seconds. “That level sets your eyes, gives them a break from the screen, and that goes a long way to reducing eye fatigue and strain,” she says.
Through consistent educational programs and consultations from WPV, Passmore says she has seen a shift that clients are making the connection between ergonomics and satisfaction and safety at work. While every trend has its fads, which one could argue is currently standing workstations, Passmore says change is inevitable, but doesn’t have to be expensive.
“Standing workstations are not the be-all and end-all,” she says. “There are many different and reasonable modifications that can made without that kind of expense.”