The American workforce is aging. In fact, of those born between the years 1946 and 1964, termed Baby Boomers, nearly ⅓ are not planning on retiring until after age 67 according to a Gallup Poll. Nearly 19 percent of people 65 or older were still working at least part-time in the second quarter of 2017. Here are a few more statistics that you may have come across as you’ve been considering your aging workforce:
- Baby Boomers represent the highest group of employment/population ratio since 1962. This is due to the implementation of the Social Security Act in the late 1960s. The disparity might show that something else needs to change.
- A study by AARP found that almost half of Baby Boomers anticipate working until age 70 or longer. Additionally, of those surveyed, 36% said they will never be able to afford retirement.
- Outside of the financial concerns with retirement, Boomers are notorious for a hard work ethic and desire to accomplish much in life. These values provide a reason for later retirement.
As you survey your own workforce, you’ve probably seen this trend among your own employees. You now have the challenge to change and be flexible along with it. One of the biggest ways that you can ensure a healthy and safe working environment for employees is through the proper implementation of ergonomics.
There are 3 main categories in this ergonomic implementation for your aging workforce. Read on to learn more about creating a safe and healthy atmosphere for your employees.
There are a few simple body-centric changes you can educate your employees on to ensure safety. After all, ergonomics is all about the efficiency and comfort in the working environment. This should start with the following measures:
- Posture Change: Your body’s movement system (or musculoskeletal system) is designed to move! Working in the same position or sitting for long periods of time is unhealthy. Evaluate your employees and set up a plan for periodic posture change.
- Power Zone: If you have to lift, make sure you are working in your power zone. When lifting, keep the item close to the body and between your mid-thigh and mid-chest. This is where you carry the item as well. Make sure the legs are used to lift and not the back.
- Neutral Posture: Even better than creating posture change opportunities or working in the power zone is to encourage your employees to work in a neutral posture. A neutral posture is when the spine is aligned and the joints are not bent. A neutral posture is preferred over working while twisting the back or with bent wrists. Also, ensure proper placement of working equipment to keep the head from “craning” or sitting abnormally. Always keep the head sitting over its support (the neck).
- Utilize Good Lighting: As visual acuity deteriorates with age, having properly lit work spaces is an easy and effective ergonomics point. As you assess your lighting situation, pay attention to natural light as well. Studies show that there is a marked relationship between daylight exposure in the workplace and workers’ sleep and quality of life–no matter what age your workers are.
Ergonomic Office Furniture
In order to keep your employees in compliance with all of the ergonomics tips discussed above, it’s imperative to create an ergonomically sound office environment. A few of the most basic, and easy-to-implement tips include the following:
- Chair: When choosing a chair, one size does not fit all. The chair should fit the employee. Each employee should test out different chairs and find the one that supports the spinal curves comfortably. When a proper chair is found, it should be adjusted so that the height of the chair makes it so the feet rest flat on the floor or a proper footrest. The thighs should be parallel to the floor. Finally, the armrests should be adjusted so arms can rest comfortably with shoulders relaxed.
- Keyboard, Mouse, and Phone: When typing or using the mouse, make sure the keyboard or mouse are on the same surface and within easy reach. The keyboard should be at a negative tilt. While using either of these devices, the wrists must be kept straight with the upper arms close to the body. Also, the hands should be placed slightly below the elbow level. Additional tips include using a mouse that can be adjusted to a more sensitive level so touch is reduced as well as using keyboard shortcuts instead of prolonged mouse usage. With telephone usage, don’t cradle the phone between the head and neck. Use a headset or put it on speaker.
- Monitor Placement: To reduce and control screen glare as well as reduce eye fatigue, place the monitor at least an arm-length away and don’t place it in front of a window or other bright background. When the eyes do invariably get fatigued, take a break by focusing the eyes and attention on something in the distance. If your employees utilize two monitors, the best set-up is to place them side by side with no gap. The secondary monitor should be placed off-center. If both monitors are used equally, they should both be centered equally.
- Desks: The most imperative piece of the puzzle when evaluating ergonomics and the aging workforce is the desk. The telephone, keyboard, mouse, and monitors can’t be properly placed without a proper desk to place them on. In fact, with ergonomics in mind, the idea of proper desks has changed. It’s been revolutionized, and the mindset of those purchasing office equipment should change along with it. Desks should be adjustable so that each employee can do what is best for their body. Especially as employees age, alternating between standing and sitting is often best. When purchasing an adjustable desk, it is imperative to have a motor to do the adjusting so bodily harm isn’t done while adjusting the desk.
Get Up and Move
After setting up a proper work environment, including educating employees about proper body placement and working techniques, and utilizing forward-thinking office equipment, there is one more important piece of the ergonomics puzzle. It is the idea that it’s important to get up and move on a regular basis. Here are a few rules of thumb to help understand how to best stay moving:
- Take a break at least once an hour to get up and get some physical exercise. Walk around the office, take a flight of stairs to the next floor’s bathroom, or take a brisk walk outside to smell the roses.
- If it is hard to remember to take a break, set a timer to go off at regular intervals.
- Make sure that when you take a break, you stretch all of the body to get everything working and moving
- Don’t forget the mental benefit of taking a break and moving. Incorporate something that brings you joy. Stop and talk to co-workers, enjoy the sunlight on your outside walk, or challenge yourself to break your own personal record for that flight of stairs
Baby Boomers, with their solid work ethic and a wide knowledge base, offer such value to each company they lend their skills to. It’s important to pay attention to both the small and large changes you can implement in your company’s ergonomic action plan to accommodate your aging workforce. To start building a more ergonomically friendly work environment that accommodates the changing needs of your workers, contact Office XYZ.