The Economics of Ergonomics: For a Happier Staff and a More Productive Firm, Apply the Principles of Ergonomics

By Baron, Laura | Journal of Accountancy, December 2006 | Go to article overview

The Economics of Ergonomics: For a Happier Staff and a More Productive Firm, Apply the Principles of Ergonomics


Baron, Laura, Journal of Accountancy


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

* Sound ergonomics makes economic sense. The goal of ergonomics is to boost productivity by increasing employee performance and comfort and reducing injuries and errors. CPA firms that attend to staff members' comfort and health are rewarded with greater work performance and job loyalty.

* A neat, clean and comfortable work environment is important. It could mean the difference between having a superstar or a mediocre person come work for your firm.

* To begin a program, CPA firms can create an internal ergonomics committee to gather information and seek training or hire a consultant. Ergonomics committees should involve the human resources department in the design and implementation of new programs.

* The ergonomics committee should look at the postures people assume at work, the tasks they perform, the office lighting and temperature, and the furniture and workstation arrangements. A firm that is outfitting an office with ergonomic equipment should seek out only durable, adjustable, high-quality products.

* There is no one-size-fits-all workstation arrangement. One absolute: Equipment should be at a distance that doesn't cause employees to twist their heads, necks or bodies.

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Applying ergonomic principles in the workplace doesn't call for NASA scientists or a big budget. From setting the right temperature in the office to providing chairs with back support and lights that minimize eyestrain, CPA firms that attend to staff comfort and health are rewarded with greater productivity and job loyalty

A CLEAR BUSINESS ADVANTAGE

The goal of sound ergonomics is to boost employee performance while reducing injuries and errors, says Alan Hedge, professor of ergonomics, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Pain or environmental distractions reduce productivity, which eventually shows up on the bottom line. Whether you're a sole practitioner working from home, a managing partner of a CPA firm or a CFO in industry, if your office doesn't follow ergonomic principles it is losing money through poorer staff performance, he says.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, of Withum Smith+Brown, New Brunswick, N.J., agrees that an ergonomic office is good business. "It's a selling point in a firm's recruitment and retention efforts," he says. He recalls working at a dark New York office with outdated technology and furniture that turned prospective employees away Eventually he left, too.

"Having a neat, clean and comfortable work environment is very important," Mendlowitz says. "It can mean the difference between having a superstar or a mediocre employee come work for you."

BUT HOW TO BEGIN?

Whether you're expanding or changing locations, designing a more ergonomically sound office can yield big rewards whatever your firm's size. If your firm is large, form an ergonomics committee to ask employees or the human resources department about any physical issues that have arisen and to research what type of ergonomics program is best. Any time a firm introduces new equipment or technology to the office, employees can feel anxious, alienated, overworked and vulnerable, so it's wise to involve HR in the design and implementation of new programs.

It will be helpful if the committee can determine whether particular departments or tasks carry a higher rate of repetitive stress injury (PSI) than others. The committee also can review the types of ergonomic products available and attend some ergonomics training before developing a program budget.

"Programs don't have to be too formal," Hedge says, "but some formality helps keep enthusiasm from waning." He suggests smaller firms designate a few staff members as ergonomics champions to organize periodic awareness meetings, help employees get ergonomics training (see www. healthycomputing.com) and monitor the program's performance and success.

Most ergonomic changes involve little or no cost, Hedge says. …

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