As we have previously explored, ergonomics is taking an increasingly central role in workplace planning and design. Growing awareness of the value of design in achieving wellness outcomes has coincided with the rise of the millennial workforce – a generation of workers more health-conscious than any of their predecessors – to make the popularity of ergonomics all but inevitable, and employers around the world are now clamouring to implement ergonomic strategies within their own workplaces. Demand continues to skyrocket, with 92% of respondents to a recent survey by employment experts Robert Walters describing wellness programs as “very or somewhat important” to them when finding a workplace.

Given that the standards and regulations governing ergonomics in Australia are largely outdated, the onus has now been placed on employers to step up in developing and delivering their own tailored strategies. Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that the market has been flooded with solutions that directly address wellness concerns, from ergonomic chairs and desks to adaptable workspaces and ergonomic training programs for employees. Over the past few years, ergonomics – and wellness in general – has become an industry in itself, with an estimated global worth of around $3.7 trillion.

The ascent of ergonomics from a relatively fringe idea to a massive global industry in a few short years begs the question: is it more than just a fad? Or is ergonomics actually a sound area of investment for employers seeking to enhance the health and wellbeing of their employees? Below, we crunch the numbers to find out.

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Return on investment

 

A well-rounded ergonomics approach (that includes careful furniture specification and staff education programs) can not only minimise – if not eliminate – the risk of illnesses including musculoskeletal and vision-related problems: there’s also mounting evidence to suggest that it may financially benefit employers. Comcare reports that every $1 invested into employee health and wellbeing can save employers up to $5.81 in absenteeism, healthcare, and compensation fees down the track.

A focus on ergonomics and wellbeing can also offer significant non-financial returns in terms of cultural and social benefits. Workplace wellbeing programs have repeatedly been shown to enhance employee satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty, in turn leading to higher retention rates of top talent.

 

The opportunity cost

 

‘Opportunity cost’ – the potential gain lost by choosing one alternative over another – is one of the basic principles of ergonomics. For many employers, the prospect of devoting significant time and resources into a thoughtfully developed and implemented ergonomics program can be daunting, and may lead to selection of the simplest alternative: inaction.

Unfortunately, this course of action all but precludes reductions in absentee rates, one of the most significant benefits of a well thought out ergonomics program. In Australia, back pain and other back issues account for around $4.8 billion in public health care expenditure, and cause 25% of sufferers in the 18-55 age group to take 10 or more days off work per year. AI Group reports that absenteeism costs organisations approximately $578 per employee per sick day, amounting to an annual cost to the Australian economy of over $44 billion a year.

This figure is made all the more shocking by the fact that lower back pain – which has surpassed even cardiac disease and depression to become the most commonly recorded workplace injury – can be minimised, if not eliminated, through proper specification of ergonomic furniture.

 

Effect on productivity

 

Ergonomics not only encourages people to come to work (and stay there) – it also helps them be more productive during the workday. As part of a broader wellness strategy, ergonomics can play a vital role in keeping employees fit and healthy, characteristics that ultimately shape performance. Australian studies have shown that the healthiest employees work approximately 143 effective hours a month, whereas the least healthy work only 49 effective hours. Fewer productive hours translate directly to reduced output, which in turn can drive profits downward and have other significant financial repercussions.

By specifying ergonomic solutions, employers can encourage good posture, movement, and elevated comfort, all of which are vital preconditions to sustained productivity.

 

Learn more about ergonomics and the other critical concepts driving contemporary commercial design this 9 – 10 August at FRONT. Key figures across the Australian design industry have already thrown their weight behind FRONT. Now it’s your turn.