Ergonomic Engineering: What Managers Can Do

Many supervisors and managers recognize the benefits of ergonomic workplaces and workspaces, but feel lost about what they can do, particularly when it involves physical investments.  Here are some ideas that can go a long way in helping your employees — it often just takes a manager to advocate on their behalf.

Ergonomic Workstations. My office recently transitioned to an open space format, where people had less square feet for their workspace, and the walls were lower. We initially got a lot of resistance to this idea — but the response shifted towards it being quite positive when we considered ergonomic design in the process — for example, we built standing desks into the design. Many ergonomic workstations allow you to raise or lower the height of the desk, so people can stand up or sit down depending on how they feel.

Today, when I walk into our open space, some are standing, some are sitting and all appreciate the flexibility the desk allows for through the day. We also bought soft mats for the floor — small investments, but employees are incredibly positive about the result.

Privacy. Too often, an open workspace means little privacy. Even small steps can make a big difference for people’s mental and physical health. For example, in our new ergonomic office design, glass cubicle walls were the standard design. We bought removable frosted adhesive paper, and cover the glass pane that is right near eye level. The result? Lights still flows and the space feels open, but employees are less distracted, and appreciate the privacy.

Temperature. Every office has its battles over temperature. Managers are in a great position to coordinate these debates. First, have an objective discussion about what an acceptable temperature range is — a great way to do this is to post a blank sheet of chart paper on the wall with a temperature scale that ranges from 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Have everyone plot their names at their preferred temperature on the scale. As a group, find the happy medium that everyone is willing to stay with, and set the thermostat at that if you can. If you don’t have control over your temperature, identify the range at which the group will accept the temperature — and when it falls above or below, have a documented process for putting in a ticket with building services.

This process allows people to also see where they are compared to others — and may tacitly encourage the person on the colder side to bring an “ergonomic sweater” to improve their relationship to their environment. Normalizing office temperature politics can go a long way to building a more cohesive team.