According to a 1997 study by the University of Washington, personal goals focusing on individual health and fitness top the list of typical New Year’s resolutions. Lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, eat healthier: none of these resolutions equal ergonomics, but every one of these objectives can help keep a worker and a workforce more productive, less susceptible to injuries, and healthier at work and at play. Even in 2002, when a General Nutrition Center survey found that feel-good concepts like enjoying life more and spending more time with friends and family overtook health-specific resolutions, resolutions still imply making personal changes to enhance all aspects of life.
Where does that put the case for the gym membership, the quintessential actualization of the New Year’s resolution, or the wellness programs that accompany the membership? For a worker, sticking to resolutions that improve health means a more comfortable work experience and off-work life, and for the workplace, a healthier worker can be a boon to improving ergonomics.
First, there are the facts: working-age Americans are getting larger (National Center for Health Statistics); smokers have higher incidents of pain that prevent them from performing work and other activities (Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, January 2003); and happy people get sick less often (Psychosomatic Medicine, July/August 2003). So personally-driven or corporate-oriented, a fitter worker is a stronger worker and, while workplace health and safety are a responsibility of an employer, remaining productive and healthy, whether on the job or not, is an individual responsibility and one that has personal benefits as well.
Ergonomics can only do so much. With office chairs, for example, a worker with weak back muscles that suffers from low back pain which is aggravated by sitting in his or her current desk chair can only benefit so much from changing to the top-of- the-line office chair; an ergonomic chair does nothing to strengthen weak muscles or prepare them for a specific task.
The gym membership, the smoking cessation program or the regular walks around the block may not seem like concepts that truly add to the workplace experience, but when worker health is improved, morale is improved, absences are decreased and a healthier workplace is actualized, meaning that overall, the workforce is resolved to function more effectively.
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2004-01-01.