In my last post I shared my opinions about how changes in the U.S. healthcare system could dramatically affect small manufacturing companies’ ability to attract and retain skilled workers at all levels. They were sparked by an interview with Dr. Jim McGlothlin and PhD. candidate Balmatee of Purdue University, but I didn’t write about the main theme of the interview, which was ergonomics in the workplace.
(The whole interview will be available on streaming video here at www.allbusiness.com as soon as we can get it edited.)
Dr McGlothlin’s argument was that attention to ergonomics is important for two reasons. First, because it’s a good way to reduce fatigue-related accidents; second, because an ergonomic workplace contributes to workers’ overall quality of life.
I had to challenge this second point. I said, in so many words, “Why should a business invest its hard-won profits in employee well-being? It’s a laudable goal, but lots of businesses can barely afford training, much less programs for something as vague as well-being.”
His response was convincing. For starters, he talked about the economic impact of accidents. They are often fatigue-related, and the fatigue is in turn often related to poor ergonomics, such as storing components that have to be lifted on the floor instead of at waste level. He made reference to situations where the absence of a key individual due to an accident could literally force a line to shut down.
The broader argument for ergonomics, however, had to do with productivity and quality. Ergonomically designed processes help ensure that productivity on Friday afternoon is the same as Monday morning, and that quality doesn’t fall off as the weekend approaches. Workers who aren’t exhausted from their jobs have more energy to engage in family activities that recharge them for the next day at work. They have, in other words, a better quality of life. And workers who don’t feel their job is wearing them out are more likely to stay.
As I write these words, I realize they sound a little utopian. Still, reducing fatigue and increasing safety are goals that make sense, and that can, at least theoretically, have a positive impact on the bottom line. Also, although some aspects of ergonomics really are rocket science, some, like putting items that must be lifted at waste level or making sure work areas are neat and clean – these are just plain common sense, and not at all costly.Finally, don’t forget the famous Hawthorne effect. The very act of demonstrating concern for workers’ conditions in itself improves productivity.