Ergonomics and Wellness: A Match Made In Heaven?
We’ve got a buzz word blog coming for you this week, so get your hashtags ready! We’re talking #ergonomics and #wellness. Both of these terms get tossed around so much that a lot of us feel confident we can define them…. But, can you really?
Don’t worry- this isn’t a test. I’m here to help and to show you how much these two coincide. We’re talking terminology synergy. Hot and steamy peanut-butter-and-jelly level concept chemistry.
Buzzwords become buzzwords for a reason- they are things we are all talking about and want to know more about. Ergonomics and wellness are not only very hot topics online but they are also incredibly important for employee success- but what do they mean and more importantly what are their best practices?
Although it’s often a subject of debate what the true meaning of ergonomics is, at Sleekform we are very confident that we’ve figured it out.
Dictionary.com defines the term ergonomics in very simple terms: “human engineering”, and although we love a succinct, minimalist approach to ANYTHING we think this term is so big it requires a bit more.
We define ergonomics as the study of our bodies and our day to day habits as well as the science behind making furniture that will adapt to us so we no longer have to adapt to our environment. Basically, ergonomics helps fit the environment to the person.
So… yeah… basically human engineering. Nice work Dictionary.com
One big misconception about the word that we strongly disagree with is that it’s exclusive to the workplace. We get it- we sit a lot and use a lot of “ergonomic products” while we work but *spoiler alert* ergonomics comes into play every time we sit, stand, walk, run, lift, hop (do you hop much? I do.) Ergonomics is an all-the-time thing. You can’t leave it at work. If you check it from a design side, ergonomics is applicable to all sides of our human experience. However, the current market for ergonomics tends to be focused mostly on the workplace for the prevention and healing of workplace musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). There’s nothing wrong with that and there’s no denying that a proper ergo set up is going to help with MSDs but for us to only focus on the workplace would be restricting all the ways this “design science” brings prevention and healing to every other aspect of our life.
Okay- so are we all clear on ergonomics? If there are still questions take a look at this previous post we made that is ALL about ergonomics.
Now, onto the second part of our buzzword explanation. This word is often seen with a hashtag in front of it these days, but what really is #wellness?
We looked to our friends at Dictionary.com again for a bit of help on this. They define wellness as:
1- the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort.
2- an approach to healthcare that emphasizes preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasizing treating diseases.
From this definition alone it’s obvious how integral ergonomics is for achieving wellness. Did you notice that keyword in the second part of the definition?! PREVENTATIVE. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to invest in ergonomic furniture before you start experiencing painful symptoms caused by improper posture and the use of poorly designed furniture. Preventing injury is a lot more fun than rehabbing from it. Much like ergonomics, wellness is something that we have to work at all the time and not just at certain times or in certain situations.
One possible conflict in the ergonomic/wellness marriage we’ve picked up on as we’ve continued our research on the topic over the past year and a half is how often things that are beyond an employer's control like obesity, genetics, and diseases are showing up in these articles. Of course, these are all major contributors to our productivity and overall health and #wellness but most of the time these details are left out of the accepted prevention strategies.
The personal health and personal safety of the employees at any company are directly linked to the productivity and health of the company’s workforce and bottom line. With this in mind, employers must put more attention and resources towards the integration of ergonomic safety and wellness and commit to a model of overall human performance. I think we are all on the same page about this, yeah?
It’s also no secret that companies achieve high levels of human performance when workplace efficiency is maximized through ergonomics and the health profile of the worker is built up through wellness.
Successfully integrating health protection and health promotion will require contributions from multiple departments. There must be a partnership and collaboration between Health & Safety, Human Resources, and Engineering. Establishing human performance as a core value of your company will ensure all departments and employees understand its importance and engage them in a partnership for injury prevention and enhanced human performance. By doing so, you can help your company reach its business goals through ergonomics and wellness.
In the end, the debate comes down to this: Do ergonomists focus on changing the person, or changing the working conditions? Traditionally it’s been the working conditions, but there’s a limit to how effective we can be without also considering the personal and social factors.
It piques our interest to see people calling for a more holistic approach to preventative posture care in workplaces while at the same time we understand the distinction between the ideas of ‘ergonomics’ and ‘wellness’.
The main difference, at least in our opinion, is that certain root cause contributors can be directly controlled by employers, while the others can’t. For example, a company does have direct control over the working height in an assembly task but does not have direct control over worker weight, fitness, etc... for obvious reasons. A company can influence personal factors by advocating wellness, but cannot directly control them like they can ergonomic setup.
We LOVE that ergonomics can be a valuable supplement to a wellness initiative and we love to see the two practices of wellness and proper ergonomics support each other. No matter how you spin it they are both recognizing that the causes and effects of MSDs go beyond the confines of the workplace and that an MSD prevention and management process must, therefore, consider personal, social and lifestyle factors. Ergonomics leans in the design direction, and wellness leans strongly in the behavioral direction.
Do you have thoughts on the merging of the concepts of ‘ergonomics’ and ‘wellness’ in the workplace? We’d love to know what you think! Sound off in the comments below.