HR Management & Compliance

Ergonomics’ New Role in HR

Who knew at the beginning of 2020 that within just a few months, the traditional face of the working world would change profoundly? The COVID-19 pandemic required a very fast adjustment, as people who routinely commuted were suddenly required to work from home.

Source: Creative Lab / Shutterstock

Companies and employees alike have had to solve new challenges, and a prominent challenge was the overnight expansion of a work-from-home business model that had been only gradually creeping into company cultures over the past decade or so.

With remote work now part of the new employment landscape, Human Resources professionals must broaden policies, procedures, and programs to include employees working from home. Workplace safety and worker well-being—part of HR management—now extend to a home office, a dining room table, or other self-proclaimed work spaces.

In this environment, ergonomics became more critical for employees. Working barefoot from the family room couch may be a comfortable option in the short run, but if good ergonomic habits are not cultivated, this wonderful informality can result in foot, ankle, neck, and back pain or even permanent injury.

Poorly designed home workstations, combined with prolonged sitting and the stress of the pandemic, can have a dramatic impact on the health and productivity of your workforce. In turn, this can be a costly issue for companies to contend with.

Musculoskeletal (MSK) issues result in lost productivity, absenteeism, and increased healthcare, disability, and workers’ compensation costs. According to The Institute in Medicine, the economic burden of work-related MSK disorders is estimated to be between $45 billion and $54 billion annually.

Promoting proper ergonomics for all workers can control costs and help employers maintain a healthy workforce. Here are five tips to share with your employees to ensure their workstations, no matter where they are located, are healthy and productive.

1. Maintain Good Posture

Good posture is critical for a healthy workstation. Slouching can quickly lead to muscle fatigue, sore backs, and stiffness. Keep your spine upright when sitting. Feet should be planted below the knees, and knees, hips, and elbows should be at a 90-degree angle. If needed, use laptop risers, keyboard drawers, and foot rests to ensure the proper posture and to comfortably access both keyboard and mouse.

2. Stand While You Work at Least Part of the Time

Research indicates that employees who use standing desks are 50% more productive, and many people report feeling better and more energetic when the option of standing is part of their workstation.

The good news is that it’s not an either-or choice. There is a range of standing desktops on the market that can sit on a traditional desk, so moving between sitting and standing becomes easy. And you get extra points if you set an alarm to go off at regular intervals to remind you to alternate between standing and sitting throughout the day.

3. Adjust Your Screen Height

Neck stiffness and eyestrain are two of the biggest problems in a work-from-home environment. Whether using a laptop, a desktop, or both, position your computer screen at eye level and less than an arm’s length from your body. Set multiple monitors side by side with no gap between them.

4. Position Devices Correctly

Set up devices to support that important 90-degree angle in your elbows, and position your keyboard and mouse about 1 or 2 inches above your thighs. Though this may seem like a pain, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even arthritis that can be more painful and result from prolonged work in an unhealthy position are what can make working from home a real pain.

5. Use a Proper Chair

Your chair is your ergonomic foundation. A proper chair supports all the tips already mentioned, offers good lumbar support, and allows some space between your knee joints and the chair seat. Chairs that adjust seat height and back angle are an excellent option.

HR professionals can make a visual scan of ergonomics in the workplace, but they’re working blind when it comes to remote workers. It’s important, therefore, to keep reminding employees who are working at home to practice good ergonomic habits. This will ensure their continued well-being and help the company avoid additional costs from worker injury.

Todd Norwood, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS, is the Clinical Director of Physera, a provider of high-quality, evidence-based virtual care for MSK conditions. With a nationwide network of licensed physical therapists, Physera’s  program provides care navigation, MSK triage, diagnosis, and personalized guided exercise therapy through the convenience of your smartphone.