Don’t Let Your Employees Just Google How To Set Up Their Workstation
In the modern era, we can address any issue by accessing information on the Internet. Unfortunately, allowing employees to take control of their workstation needs may not be the best idea. From a company perspective, there aren’t many interventions that can be introduced which have the ability to affect every employee positively.
In many cases, companies feel that setting up or running a programme is time consuming or requires great effort. In reality, elements that consistently recur within successful programs include management commitment, employee involvement, and directly address workplace physical and work organizational factors 1. A strong ergonomic culture based around education and awareness will help to improve worker and company performance, so the time invested and the effort required is returned 2. We can look at this another way in relation to the numbers.
Employer Benefits Are Too Costly to Get Wrong
The time we spend working at a computer has, in several studies, been identified as a risk factor for musculoskeletal (MSK) symptoms of the neck and upper limbs 10. With this in mind, MSK injuries significantly contribute to the imbalance between hours paid and hours actually worked 3. The overall result is a significant decrease in workforce productivity - which does not appear on sick leave statistics or days missed due to illness. Therefore, the metrics used to gauge the true effect need revision.
It has been argued that sickness absence is not an accurate expression of productivity, particularly amongst computer users, since many people experience discomfort and still attend work 3. From a company perspective, waiting until individuals start missing days due to an issue means that the problem could have been there for a much longer time period.
A programme based around prevention and early detection would, in theory, yield a higher return in a shorter time frame 8. Employers body Ibec estimates “that absenteeism costs Irish businesses as much as €1.5 billion a year, the equivalent to €818 for each employee” 5, but what is the cost of lost productivity?
For example, a study in the Netherlands (6) found the following:
Should a worker have reduced productivity of approximately 20% due to a MSK issue of an 8-hour workday
Their average annual salary might be EUR 33 000 (including 32% employer costs)
The annual work hours would be 1650
A 20% productivity loss would amount to EUR 550 per worker per month
This roughly equals the costs of a sick leave period of 3.5 workdays6.
Therefore, in a given year, this would amount to a €6600 loss. The most amazing element of this figure is that the employee may or may not have taken any sick days as a result of their issue but yet the cost to the company is still very high.
When investing in an intervention to combat this issue, elements that consistently recur within successful programmes include the following:
Directly addressing workplace physical and work organizational factors4
None of these three elements should be taken in isolation; they are in fact all connected. If management commits the time and effort, communicates the right message to the employee, and then actions the necessary outcomes appropriately, then the full benefit will be obtained. Setting up the correct systems allows an organisation to accomplish this and achieve the full return on their investment.
Return on Investment (ROI)
In the earlier example, we’re looking at reduced productivity. In most cases, companies look at direct costs because these are easier to calculate. They are usually incurred in response to an injury or discomfort, most notably worker’s compensation and additional medical care costs. Indirect costs are more difficult. They include increased lost productivity, as previously mentioned, as well as decreased work output.
But what about the administrative time for other personnel after incidents/illnesses, potential turnover or the recruitment and training of new staff? Indirect costs can have far reaching financial consequences and often outweigh direct costs by a ratio of more than 3:1 7. Evidence suggests that ergonomic interventions can result in a ROI ranging from 3:1 to as much as 15:1 7.
When taking these figures into consideration, by preventing an issue in the first place, it can prevent the ripple effect throughout the organisation and maintain employee health. Therefore, the 15:1 ratio does not appear unreasonable.
“By preventing an issue in the first place, it can prevent the ripple effect throughout the organisation and maintain employee health.”
A successful programme should in theory pay for itself. Therefore, the “Average Payback Periods” for the money invested in a programme has been calculated 8. For comprehensive programs, it will take only 2½ months to recoup all the money invested 8. Specifically for office ergonomics programs, it will take as little as 5 months for the programme to be self funding 8. When investing in individual solutions, such as a chair or equipment, it will only take 5 months before the investment is recovered 8. Most payback periods for ergonomics interventions are less than 1 year when carrying out true cost benefit analysis 8.
To be specific, the “median net value of benefits in first year” has been €214 per worker company wide 9. When companies look at investing money in equipment and training, they should be aware that the benefits of the correct choices should be focused on the reducing injuries, decreasing turnover and increased productivity 9. Most organisations would not view their choice of equipment or the training they deliver in this context. Again to be specific to MSK issues in the workplace, the effectiveness of ergonomics interventions showed a decrease on average of 59% for work-related MSK issues; a decrease on average of 75% in lost workdays and an increase on average of 25% in productivity 9.
In summary, the solution to all your workplace needs is as follows:
Investment is returned in a short period of time
Put in place the correct strategies, which must include education
Follow through and show your employees that this matters to you as well as to them
It is not simply enough to tick this box in an organisation, you have to make it work for you and for your employees.
National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine (2001) Musculoskeletal Disorders and the Workplace: Low Back and Upper Extremities. Panel on Musculoskeletal Disorders and the Workplace. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
M Robertson; B C Amick III; K DeRango; T Rooney; L Bazzani; R Harrist; A Moore (2009). The effects of an office ergonomics training and chair intervention on worker knowledge, behavior and musculoskeletal risk. Applied Ergonomics. 40(1), P124-135
Musculoskeletal Disorders and the Workplace: Low Back and Upper Extremities. National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Musculoskeletal Disorders and the Workplace. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001.
IBEC: Employee Absenteeism. A Guide to Managing Absenteeism.
Lötters F1, Meerding WJ, Burdorf A. (2005). Reduced productivity after sickness absence due to musculoskeletal disorders and its relation to health outcomes. Scand J Work Environ Health; 31(5):367-74.
Heller-Ono, A. (2014). A Prospective Study of a Macroergonomics Process over Five Years Demonstrates Significant Prevention of Workers’ Compensation Claims Resulting in Projected Savings. Evaluation. 30: 90.
Goggins, R., Spielholz, P. & Nothstein, G. (2008). Estimating the effectiveness of ergonomics interventions through case studies: implications for predictive cost-benefit analysis. Journal of Safety Research. 39: 339–344.
Verbeek, J., Pulliainen, M. & Kankaanpää, E. (2009). A systematic review of occupational safety and health business cases. Scand J Work Environ Health;35(6):403–412.
Wahlstrom, J (2005). Ergonomics, musculoskeletal disorders and computer work. Occupational Medicine; 55:168–176