The science of… Ergonomics

Last week I posted 3 pieces in my series of The Science of… Occupational Psychology. I’m going to try and be disciplined and finish them off this week. Next up then, we look at ergonomics.

Ergonomics is all about the design of a physical object and the way we interact with it. For example, take your standard chair. It has a particular design and purpose. The study of ergonomics informs us about what enables good design and what doesn’t. This particular topic is not restricted to occupational psychology. It also crosses boundaries with Health and Safety, Art, Architecture, Home Furnishings and even Technology.

So why would an occupational psychologist be concerned with the design and use of an object? Well, when you think about it, one of the outputs of the way we interact with an object informs about how much we enjoy and are pleased with that object. If you have purchased a new chair for work and it is comfortable, aids your posture, and is adjustable to your liking, you will have an association with this object. That association will stay with you until you are convinced the object needs to change.

A lot of research goes into the design of pretty much any object you can see on your desk. Your telephone, laptop, monitor, mouse, chair, pedestal, desk, tray stack, and more, have undergone some level of research and development into identifying the ideal way they can be utilised. What this enables is a pleasant work environment that you are comfortable with and have good memories of. If you consider Herzberg’s theory of motivation, where he discusses motivational and hygiene factors, ergonomics is clearly a hygiene factor. Get it right and people will be passe about their interaction with it, get it wrong and you’ll have hell to pay.

In the wider context then, this also plays out with how office spaces are designed. Open plan or walled up offices? Same building or remote work spaces? Dedicated desk, or hot-desk? All these play an important part in an employee’s state of well-being and engagement. Sure, ergonomics doesn’t directly affect all those, but the design and use of the objects that enable all those will have an affect.

I’ve not gone into the actual science of ergonomics, as this isn’t my field of speciality. Instead, I wanted to give an insight into why it’s important. Consider for a moment if the mouse you are using were instead oval shaped, you held it by encasing the whole thing in the palm of your hand and the buttons were at your finger tips. How would that change your experience of, interaction with and association with that mouse? That’s what ergonomics aims to uncover and provide insight into.

Posts in this series:

The science of… Assessment Centres
The science of… Psychometrics
The science of… Competency Frameworks
The science of… Appraisals
The science of… Learning and Development
The science of… Occupational Psychology