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To my fellow Ergonomic enthusiasts: are we missing an opportunity to better serve our clientele?

I have always been drawn to ergonomics because it is a value driven profession focussed on solving challenges for the employer. Effective ergonomic assessments involves trouble-shooting to determine and identify where or if ergonomic risk factors are present, then providing solutions to bring workstations to within acceptable ergonomic criteria and standards that I’m most passionate about – and of course this whole process is done only within a small window of time.

It’s a thrilling race-against-the-clock experience every single time.

But, does this thrilling identification and remedying of ergonomic risks limit the overall role that we, as health and wellness professionals, can have in a workplace? There are always big-ticket health and wellness concerns that as professionals we get an insider’s perspective on. Are we leaving opportunity on the table when it comes to serving our clients? If so, would this be best served in a multi-disciplined team approach or just through your established connections in your network? After this post we can dive into a nitty-gritty discussion on this.

In this post I’m going to share one very interesting approach that combines two unique approaches to get to the root cause of behaviour to get real change in the workplace.

Should Ergonomics Solutions Be Shifting Towards Holistic Health Solutions?

As practicing Ergonomists, some of the things that we can get asked about in an ergonomic assessment include what the ‘best way’ to sit is, how to set up a workstation to match each unique user, and what the best way to incorporate less sedentary activity is.

In my experience doing over a decade of ergonomic assessments, sometimes there can be an in-congruency between a person’s outside work activities – for example ‘green’ juices, exercise, etc and their work activities – aka remaining stationary for their entire workday. The question is if these sedentary work behaviours negate all of the ‘pro-health’ behaviours engaged with outside of work.

The short answer is that it does. So, how do you address this? One way, that this research recommends is to start by addressing what stage that person’s ‘Readiness For Change. is, and then tailoring health education based on that level. It’s a simple yet ingenious strategy to achieve jaw-dropping results.

More Details From the Research

This research reviewed 1120 participants across 10 worksites enrolled in a program called ‘Walking Works Wonders’ – a tailored intervention designed to increase physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviour. Interestingly, the researchers decided to focus on Big Ticket health concerns, where any improvements would have very big and powerful implications to the costs of running a business – and public health in general. Specifically they investigated these indicators of health: BMI, percent fat, waist circumference, blood pressure, and heart rate as well as self-reported measures of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, physical and psychological health.

What made this study so unique was that instead of a ‘one size fits all’ approach, they tailored all messaging to the participants – they used the results from the employee’s stage of change survey. This refreshing strategy proved to be very valuable for the research outcomes. And, as I’ll mention in the next section is very repeatable to your services.

The foundation of this research is the the Stages of Change Model, where a person can fall within to one of these five stages based on their thoughts and behaviours:

  1. Pre-contemplation
  2. Contemplation
  3. Preparation
  4. Action
  5. Maintenance

In the past, this strategy has been very successful applied to smoking cessation programs.

This is an extremely cost-effective strategy to understand the best way to present information to encourage progression into the next consecutive stage, eventually to consistently be within the maintenance stage. Identifying what stage someone is in gives you a major hint on how to present information action can be taken instead of that person feeling overwhelmed or dropping out of the study because the information didn’t account for where they are.

It’s a very clever way to model change.

Specifically, this research used a design that encouraged participants to consistently increase their activity level during a 1 year period via quarterly interventions. Some examples of activities included: step count competitions, stair climbing, active commuting, and a ‘walking lunch’ (where employees were given a map and encouraged to explore the area to find cafes, restaurants, parks, and picnic spots).

The findings of this research found that those who received a tailored intervention had significant reductions in BMI and waist circumference over the 1 year intervention period as well as the 1 year follow-up period!

Wow!

Practical Applications

The really interesting aspect of this study is that it’s focussed on behaviour change instead of just purchasing the next shiny, trendy piece of equipment. Often times to limit sedentary activity a sit-stand desk is recommended (or wanted!), but this study shows a simple strategy to get the benefits of a healthier lifestyle at work without the requirement of spending a lot of money on new equipment.

From consulting for over a decade now, it is blindingly obvious that many workplaces (and the majority of small businesses) simply cannot afford to purchase sit-stand desks for every employee. And this is another reason why this research  is just so interesting!

As an Ergonomist you can suggest behaviour changes that your client can incorporate into their days immediately to limit sedentary activity and even improve their overall health without any significant long-term employer costs. When I conduct office ergonomic assessments I make suggestions so that my clients can incorporate more standing by approaching it in a ‘value-added’ way – for instance every time the phone rings, stand to answer it. Or, when they are reading a hard-copy document (paper document) stand to read. Another suggestion is to walk to chat with a colleague instead of sending an email, or even trying a walking meeting. Lastly if filling documents is an aspect of the position, plan periods of time throughout the day to act like a postural break.

The reason why all these ‘hacks’ aka suggestions exist is that for the majority of people they spend their entire workdays sitting, also known sedentary behaviour.

In summary – the tailored intervention is the way to go! – you can check out the readiness for change questionnaire in the study- if something like this is interesting for you.

One size does not fit all for behavioural change in the workplace! And to get the best results, tailoring health information to the stage of change your client is would be the best possible situation!

Implications For Your Services

There must always be a willingness to collaborate on any health initiative from both sides – the workplace and the consultant. Otherwise we risk lackluster results, which may make ergonomics and/or health promotion have a feeling of a ‘flavour of the month’.

Leave a comment below. Do you think that as Ergonomists, we are leaving a lot of opportunity on the table for holistic health improvements? If so, what would be the best way to serve your clients: either a multidisciplinary approach or just informally by leveraging the power of the connections of your network?

Leave a comment and let’s dive into this discussion!

Discussion

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