The way your desk and workspace is set up has a major impact on the health of your lower back, neck, and shoulders. Desk set up also affects your productivity throughout the day, it is hard to focus when you are uncomfortable. If you are in a position that isn’t good for your body, your joints and ligaments are under abnormal stress which makes you prone to premature joint degenerative disc disease due to the unnecessary wear and tear on your joints.

Holistic ergonomics is a fascinating area of study that ties together both the body and mind to engineer workspaces for optimal health. In this blog, we interview ergonomic specialist, Samantha Schwarz from Knoll Furniture to learn more about holistic ergonomics, why it is important, and how companies are improving the health of their employees. 

[Jackie]: What exactly does it mean to have an ergonomically designed workspace? And who needs it?

[Samantha]: Knoll has a great white paper called “Holistic Ergonomics for the Evolving Nature of Work” in which we discuss ergonomics as being broadly defined as “improving the fit between the person and their immediate environment.”

Office ergonomics is a very important part of creating healthful and productive work environments. However, recently office ergonomics has failed to evolve with the ever-changing way in which we work, as we are now more collaborative and work in a variety of locations and workspace types. Thus we must approach ergonomics in a “holistic” way encompassing more than just the individual workspace, you must address all individual and groups spaces as well as the mental, physical and social aspects of work. 1

[Jackie]: Why are ergonomics important? (Or why should employers care?)

[Samantha]: To reduce discomfort and risk of injury to your employees and also improve worker efficiency, there are many different products that can be integrated into your workspace, flexible ergonomic seating, adjustable height work surfaces, task lighting, moveable keyboard tray, and movable monitor arms, that work together to provide maximum flexibility so the user can adapt to changing work process needs.

Beyond their healthful benefits, these features can also be used to support constant transitions between individual work and collaborative interactions that form the cornerstone of effective knowledge work today. Studies have shown consistent health and performance outcomes between workspace features that provide flexibility and support these transitions. The holistic approach applies ergonomics principles to create workplaces that enhance group and organizational performance by supporting the fluid and collaborative nature of knowledge work today and in the future. 1

[Jackie]: Is it more expensive to buy ergonomically designed furniture?

[Samantha]: Initially the day one cost of ergonomic furniture is a bit more, however, the savings that you realize day two and beyond more than makeup for the initial cost.

This is demonstrated in our “What’s Good for People? Moving from Wellness to Well-Being” white paper, where we discuss Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a useful framework for thinking about workplaces, work processes and work practices that can impact employee well being. In this framework, an employee’s physiological and safety needs serve as the foundation of the well-being pyramid.

Meeting your employees ergonomic needs fall into this category, employees are often dissatisfied if these basic needs are not met. And furthermore, if the basic needs are not met well-being and engagement is unattainable. Studies show that employees with high levels of well-being not only cost their employers less, employees are also more productive and engaged in their work. Thus making up for initial higher cost in the ergonomic products, because you are able to get more out of your employees which increases overall profitability for the company.

[Jackie]: What are your repeat customers most happy about when choosing ergonomically designed furniture?

[Samantha]: Our customers are most happy with the increased productivity that they see with giving their employees the choice and flexibility to work how they want. They also see a reduction in workplace injury and workman’s comp claims.

[Jackie]: What is your best selling ergonomically designed product and why are they sought out?

[Samantha]: That is a really tough question to answer! We are seeing an increase in height adjustable tables and the adjustable monitor arm combination in bids that we are responding to. I think this is because the cost of the adjustable height tables are coming down and employees are requesting this as a standard for everyone rather than an accommodation for some.

[Jackie]: Is this stand up and ergonomic revolution becoming the mainstream for the Googles and Facebooks of the world, or are you seeing it across multiple companies with many different budgets?

[Samantha]: Yes, this revolution I believe is here to stay! We are seeing the height adjustable tables or standing height options as the basis of design in almost all project that we are working on. If a customer’s budget doesn’t allow for individual adjustable height tables for every workstation we are seeing standing height tables being specified and located throughout an office floor plan to give the users the choice to move to and work at for a period of time. The key to sprinkling standing height tables in space is making sure to provide adequate power for users to plug in devices so they can still be productive as well as making sure that the company culture supports users working in many different ways.

[Jackie]: Do you find that most people are educated about the dangers of prolonged sitting or is there still a lot of education needed?

[Samantha]: People are becoming are more informed about the potential negative effects of sitting too long but I believe that there is still lots of educating to do.

[Jackie]: What do you recommend businesses that do not have a large budget for furniture do?

[Samantha]: The best thing to do is work with a manufacturer who is going to partner with you to find the best solution to fit your needs as a company and those of your employees while respecting your budget. There are many options out there it is just a matter of finding the correct combination of products that work for your organization and people.

[Jackie]: What is the most common failure with ergonomically designed furniture?

[Samantha]: The most common failure that we see are products that are designed with too many manual adjustments so the user becomes confused and gives up. We also see issues with the user not being properly educated on how to use the various products which means they then use them incorrectly or not at all, leading to injury and complaints.

[Jackie]: What are the most common injuries from poorly designed office spaces?

[Samantha]: The most common injuries we see are carpal tunnel and neck and back strain.

[Jackie]: Who should be concerned about ergonomics?

[Samantha]: EVERYONE! It is something that we should all be thinking about in our lives both at work and at home.

About Samantha:

Samantha graduated 10 years ago from Kansas State University with a degree in Interior Design and spent several years working for architecture firms.  She is passionate about creating meaningful space that supports the users in their everyday tasks. She has been apart of the Knoll team, global commercial furniture manufacturer, for two years where she is able to work with a variety of clients to help create solutions that work with their people, company culture and budget.

End Notes

1.O’Neill, M and Albin, T. (2011). Holistic Ergonomics for the Evolving Nature of Work. White Paper, Knoll, Inc., New York, NY.

2. Lister, K. (2014). What’s Good for People? Moving from Wellness to Well-Being. White Paper, Knoll, Inc., New York, NY.

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