3 Ways to Make Sure Your Ergonomic Projects Stay on Track

By: | April 17, 2020

Gary Allread is the Program Director for SRI•Ergonomics at The Ohio State University. His passion for reducing employee injuries and improving work productivity guides the ergonomics technical consultation and training services he provides to companies and organizations nationwide. Gary can be reached at [email protected].

Why do ergonomics solutions sometimes fail?

A typical workplace ergonomics improvement process involves careful investigation, evaluation of improvement options, and calculations to determine the best solution(s) for moving forward.

However, individuals affected by the interventions may still be unhappy with or resistant to the work change or be suspicious of its supposed benefits. It has been found that fewer than half of major corporate reengineering projects implemented within Fortune 1000 companies were successful. 

So, why the high failure rate? It could be due to the employer-employee relationship and the amount of trust there between the two.

1) How to Build Lasting Trust

It has been estimated that organizations with supportive culture and capable leaders are able to implement changes 30% to 50% faster than those without.

Without positive relationships and trust, ergonomics improvement decisions are likely to be met with skepticism and as a result, be less effective. Without them, it is difficult to build a culture that accepts change.

Business leaders at Quinnipiac University identified eight qualities that leaders need to build trust amongst a team:

Keeping Commitments, to make sure that actions are followed through completely.

Telling the Truth, regardless of how difficult or upsetting it may be to others.

Admitting Mistakes, as individuals generally admire openness.

Honoring Confidences, by keeping conversations private.

Showing Respect, by simply treating others politely.

Being a Model of Integrity, by behaving in the manner you expect of others.

Being Empathetic but Not Sympathetic, which conveys an understanding of another’s situation but does not imply superiority.

Making Sure to Under-Promise and Over-Deliver, because continually exceeding one’s expectations is viewed admirably.

Managers who adopt these leadership qualities can improve trust within an organization and ensure that ergonomics improvement efforts produce the expected results.

2) Fear Can Derail Improvements

Another issue that can derail good ergonomics solutions is the fear caused by their potential implementation. It is a natural response to be fearful of the unknown, and employees may become anxious if they are unsure how ergonomics implementations will impact their jobs.

There could be concerns that the change may actually make the work more difficult or unpleasant or that it will require learning new skills. Employees also may fear that the solution will not function as expected or is just a work change made by management without its full support.

These fears can lead to workplace conflicts. While some employees may be on-board with the changes and be willing to perhaps learn a new skill; others may be less receptive and find the changes to be too daunting. Opposing perceptions of an intervention can damage an otherwise healthy work environment or produce some distrust between individuals.

So, what can be done to lessen the anxiety or interpersonal conflicts that may result from change?  Management consultant Robert Tanner identified five strategies for managing fears about change, all of which can be applied to ergonomics-based interventions: 

1) Promote the desirable outcomes, as employees will be willing to accept an ergonomics solution if they see its value.  This includes an explanation of the reason for the intervention and how its implementation will lead to desirable improvements not currently possible.

2) Reward change acceptance and use, because an ergonomics improvement will be viewed as desirable if it is evident that employees who readily embrace the intervention are rewarded for their actions.

 3) Communicate and reinforce the benefits of the intervention the transition period, using various means, such as during meetings and on bulletin boards.  In addition, affected employees need to be assured that their fears and concerns will be heard and that there will be assistance given, if needed, through the transition.

4) Provide training on any new skills needed, because employees may not initially possess the abilities needed to effectively work after the intervention, or they could be anxious that their skills are not sufficient.  Therefore, opportunities and time for skill development must be provided.  This will produce employees who are confident they can successfully operate within the modified workplace.

5) Adopt the change behavior expected of others; employees will be more accepting of the ergonomics intervention, and less suspicious of it, if safety & health leaders themselves are advocating or using it.  Doing so demonstrates its value and a commitment to workplace change that is often difficult for everyone.

3) How Age Influences Ergonomic Solutions

Employees’ perceptions of potential ergonomics solutions can promote or derail a successful implementation. Those views often differ from one generation of workers to another, as does one’s ability to adapt to change. 

Employees a part of Generation X (born 1965-1979) and Generation Y (or Millennials, 1980-1994) often view change as a way to experience new opportunities, while Generation Z (1995 and younger) is used to workplace change and expects it. 

This is in sharp contrast to Baby Boomers (1944-1964), who tend to be the most cynical about change.  Boomers often equate change to a transition from a stable to an uncertain workplace.

Fortunately, there are many commonalities across people, regardless of age.  In her book, Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground, author and research scientist Jennifer Deal found that each generation has similar values (e.g., family), wants respect, expect its leaders to be trustworthy, desires to learn, appreciates feedback, and dislikes change.

Managers can successfully guide employees through the ergonomics change process by applying relevant leadership tips, namely:

  • Being aware of each change situation and acting accordingly;
  • Being conscious of one’s own generational biases;
  • Appreciating the benefits of having a diverse workforce;
  • Developing relationships with all those affected; and
  • Learning more about and respecting generational differences and the circumstances that created them.

Ergonomics-based solutions that are integrated into work processes can be distressing to employees, but that doesn’t mean these fears can’t be lessened or eliminated if the change process is thoughtfully implemented to account for this normal human response.  The result is an ergonomics solution that is both effective and well-received by all those involved. &

The National Ergonomics Conference and Expo®, an affiliate of Risk & Insurance®’s parent organization, The Institutes®, will take place August 25-28, 2020 at Caesar’s Forum in Las Vegas. Register today.

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