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Sensory ergonomics can help employees enjoy mandatory in-office days

Ergonomics are essential in the office, but Alexandra Cooper stresses that to be effective, it must encompass all five senses.

6 min read



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If somebody told you there’s a way to increase the overall stratification and productivity of your employees, your first question would be how? Well, ergonomics, aka the study of people in their working environment, is your key to enhancing the comfort and safety of your employees and increasing staff retention. 

You should modify your office to fit your employees, not the other way around. And if you require your team to come into your workplace — no matter how many days per week — you should at least make it ergonomic. No matter how much your budget is, you must consider all employee senses. Sensory ergonomics is the act of manipulating an environment by either adding or withdrawing sensory stimuli to meet the needs of individuals functioning within that environment. Do not underestimate its importance.

More than meets the eye

Visual queues, including your office’s color palette, are essential for dictating how you want your employees to feel. For example, yellow and orange are energizing colors and are usually very good for office spaces. And don’t think it has to be just bright tones — light shades of these colors also have a similar effect. If you’re designing a quiet space within your office, the best wall color choice would be blue, as it provides employees with a sense of calmness.

Poor lighting is also high on employees’ lists of complaints as it can lead to eyestrain and headaches, subsequently leading to them being absent. Natural light increases the mood of employees and while it’s not always possible to have, there are easier things you could do. These include providing indirect lighting sources and task lights like desk lamps, installing low-glare bulbs and avoiding reflective light work surfaces. 

Having monitor screens directly at eye level is crucial for neck pain and eyestrain. Keep in mind that this will be different for everyone, and you need to provide adjustable desk accessories that can accommodate every employee. Speaking of desks, it’s essential to provide your employees with the necessary storage tools, such as file cabinets, cable management boxes and even pen holders, to stay organized. While tidiness contributes to a streamlined workflow, it’s also essential to encourage your employees to personalize their workstation which boosts creativity and brings a sense of identity and comfort. You can do this easily through photos, small knick-knacks and fun magnets.

Set the tone

Some employees don’t mind a noisy environment, but for those who hit their stride when it’s quiet, you should consider adding sound-absorbing materials into your space that will improve noise and distractions. These include acoustic panels, soundproofing paint, ceiling tiles and carpets, even a soundproof booth workstation.

A cheaper, more accessible alternative would be to provide your employees with noise-canceling headphones. The noise reduction leads to increased concentration levels, which, in turn, increases productivity. But be sure to set a precedent that it’s not a rude gesture when your colleague puts them on.

A whiff of calm

On a cold winter day, many employees long for summer holidays. The scents of coconut or ocean breeze can take your employee right back to a particular memory while relaxing their minds and improving efficiency at the same time. If they’re having a busy week, breathing in lavender, rosemary and chamomile can also reduce stress. You can achieve this experience through an oil diffuser. Consider providing those on your team who sit in an enclosed office or in a space that wouldn’t bother others, with an aroma lamp.

While a feast for the eyes, some plants also have an aroma that promotes unwinding. If your office has an area with bright, indirect light, the sweet scent of jasmine is known to help reduce anxiety. Dried lavender bundles on workstations help reduce fatigue, stress and fear. Aside from their beauty, sweet-smelling orchids also purify the air due to their absorption of xylene and formaldehyde, creating a healthy indoor environment. According to the ancient Chinese tradition of Feng Shei, orchids are known for boosting energy levels. There are also eucalyptus leaves that support the respiratory system.

Don’t sleep on tactility

Gluteal amnesia, or dead butt syndrome, is a real thing. It’s what happens when your glute muscles “fall asleep” from sitting too much. If your budget is tight, the number one priority should be changing your chairs — where your employees place their tushies for eight hours a day. An ergonomic chair assists with posture and drastically improves overall comfort.

Something that will for sure get your cold-blooded team off their bottoms to check the thermostat is the room temperature. Not only is it one of the most common complaints employees have, but it’s also one of the toughest to solve because everyone’s thermal comfort is different. If you find yourself in this pickle, you should think outside the box. Where are the ones that feel chilly seated? Check to see if there’s a draft coming from windows and openings. If your building is well-insulated, consider placing this group near windows and the others, who are generally warm, in a spot that doesn’t receive direct sunlight.

Yes, even taste buds

It wouldn’t be complete sensory ergonomics without the fifth and final sense — taste. While not directly impacted by the work environment itself, the food and drinks your employees consume while at the office have a significant impact on their health and efficiency. Keeping your kitchen stocked with fresh fruit and healthy snack options makes it easy for your employees to choose food that will nourish them and improve their energy and concentration. You should also encourage your team not to eat lunch at their desks. Multitasking may seem like a good idea, but eating while distracted can cause a higher chance of overeating due to ingesting more calories than intended. Scarfing down a meal can result in poor digestion, and if your team’s stomachs aren’t happy, there’s no way they can be as productive. 

It falls on you

Your company is responsible for providing an ergonomic environment for your employees or at least trying to guarantee the best conditions possible. It’s in your best interest to keep them healthy and happy. Hear your employees’ complaints, figure out viable ways to solve them to the best of your ability, and make the ergonomic perks in your office outweigh their commute to it.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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