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Since the advent of critical economic crunches, most firms have increased their concern over issues that contribute to financial losses within their work environments. Ergonomics, as a constant workplace problem, is a concept that has received considerable attention over the last few years (Kim & Dear 2013). Ergonomic issues in organizations do not only cause physical or psychological harm to workers, but such implications sometimes result in human errors at a workplace that causes a financial crisis. Since technical machine errors occur due to human errors or sometimes system problems, understanding of ergonomics is central to such underlying issues.
Human errors in workplace settings sometimes occur due to human factors that include the workplace environment (Kim & Dear 2013). The work environment can prove traumatic and troublesome, and consequently, cause physical and psychological ergonomics to employees. Office layout sometimes predisposes employees to ergonomic issues that lead to serious errors. Therefore, this paper provides an assessment of physical and psychological ergonomic factors of the workplace environment that are likely to influence the occurrence of human errors.
Open Office Layout and Ergonomics
Extensive research examines the extent to which the physical work environment influences the perception of employees and their behavior. According to Kim and Dear (2013), the physical work environment is capable of influencing the concentration of employees, their attitude towards the workplace, their satisfaction, and even their work productivity. An office, no matter how small it may look, is a working environment that is present in many organizations across the world (Lundstrom et al. 2002).
Contemporary research reveals that modern organizations are seeking to design and construct cost-effective and efficient offices and workplace facilities. This has led to an increase in the interest of designing offices using the open office layout to facilitate efficiency and cost-effectiveness within organizations. Whilst organizations assume that open office layouts are the most effective, attractive, and convenient offices, which facilitate efficient communication and interaction among workmates, its impact on office ergonomics remains underestimated.
From the perception of workers, documented empirical evidence on the ineffectiveness of open office layout is increasing, especially how it comprises several office ergonomic issues that lead to serious human errors. According to a longitudinal study conducted on large private organizations by Brennan, Chugh, and Kline (2002) “open office design negatively related to workers’ satisfaction with their physical environment and perceived productivity” (p. 279).
An open office layout potentially predisposes workers or office occupants to numerous physical and psychological ergonomics that influence their concentration and attention to assigned duties. Kim and Dear (2013) state explicitly that open-plan office design is renowned to be disruptive and destructive due to uncontainable noise. The organization understudy has a traditional open-plan office with rooms illuminated by the ceiling, with high-powered fluorescent electric bulbs. The offices also seem congested with closely arranged desks, poor lighting, defective heating systems, and high temperatures of above 25ºC. Thus, as employees work long hours coupled with these ergonomic issues, they are prone to make errors.
Office Arrangement and Office Ergonomics
Research has established that office ergonomics can be physical or psychological and thus office arrangement is a prime factor that raises ergonomic issues. An open office arrangement with the crumpled layout arrangement is harmful to office occupants as it has the potential of causing physical ergonomics (Brennan, Chugh, & Kline 2002). The aforementioned office arrangement indicates that the open office arrangement contains desks that seem congested and disorganized with little spaces between them. The order of office seats and office tables can hamper the effective flow of work arrangement and capable of causing physical accidents in offices (Mueller & Hassenzahl 2010).
A congested office makes employees work in discomfort, nervousness, and distress, as there is no comfort in sitting. Lack of comfort in a pressurized working environment increases employee’s inaccuracy, reduces concentration, and increases work-related stress (Mueller & Hassenzahl 2010). Sitting for long hours in an uncomfortable posture strains the limbs, neck, backbone, and subsequently creates psychological strain in the workplace leading to numerous human errors.
The spatial arrangement of office is a crucial determinant of office ergonomics and the foremost aspect that influences the productivity of employees (Hameed 2009). Reckless arrangement of office equipment including seats and tables can result in detrimental accidents and physical injuries that subsequently affect concentration and productivity of workers (Lundstrom et al. 2002). For effective working, limbs, backbone, and neck are essential human body parts that influence participation and concentration of employees in their work assignments as injuries on these body parts contribute to serious human errors.
An environment that predisposes workers to constant physical accidents and injuries lowers job satisfaction, influences their perception about their workplace, and affects their psychological concentration (Mueller & Hassenzahl 2010). Ordinary desks are no longer comfortable seats to any modern office as they pose ergonomic issues. Uncomfortable sitting posture results to work stress and burnout that comes with physical, emotional, and mental fatigue, which are factors that reduce mental and physical alertness of employees in the workplace.
Office Lighting and Office Ergonomics
Light is very essential because almost every ergonomic aspect of humans regularly depends on light to be effective and attainable. According to Lundstrom et al. (2002), the concept of office ergonomics understands that office lighting is a prime physical element, necessary in determining the productivity of employees in their office duties. In any modern office environment, both physical and artificial lights are essential and important as they influence the working mood and concentration of employees (Hameed 2009).
Whilst both natural and artificial lighting systems are imperative to an office environment as they influence the physical comfort and concentration of workers, certain light ergonomic issues cause workplace discomfort (Ajala 2012). As previously mentioned in the arrangement of the open offices in the organization under investigation, the traditional lighting systems used are ergonomically inappropriate. The concern of the CEO regarding the artificial lighting system used in the open offices is reasonable, as the high-powered fluorescent bulbs may cause ergonomic problems that result in discomfort among workers.
Poor office lighting, whether natural or artificial, is harmful to the performance of workers in an office environment. Too much office lighting results in light ergonomics, as excess light leads to excess reflections and glare on computers, eye-straining, and other discomfort factors that make employees lose work concentration (Oommen, Knowles, & Zhao 2008). High-powered fluorescent bulbs used in an organization office, produce powerful artificial lighting that leads to excess lighting on the computer screens, resulting in glare issues. Glare reflections from office computers cause dissatisfaction in offices, as employees feel physically uncomfortable, lose motivation at the workplace, and commit errors (Mueller & Hassenzahl 2002).
Excessive fluorescent light in a work environment constitutes stressors and the glare reflection results in low mental and psychological well-being of workers; hence, increase work errors (Hameed 2009). Workers under heavy lighting in offices feel disturbed emotionally as glare reflections from computer screens and excess temperatures resulting from high-powered fluorescent bulbs cause dissatisfaction and discomfort.
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High Temperatures on Office Ergonomics
Temperature and air quality in an office environment are important elements of a physical environment that influence the comfort and alertness of office occupants. An office design that has poor air conditioning and unfavorable temperatures are normally disruptive and stressful for workers operating within that environment (Reason 2000). For workers to perceive a workplace temperature as favorable, the levels of heat within offices should not be extremely high or extremely low, but they should be moderate. Extreme heat and temperatures, as a work environment stressors have the greatest influence on the concentration and productivity of workers in an office (Hameed 2009).
Low temperatures are not exceptional to negative office ergonomics, as they disrupt the working environment and reduce concentration, cause discomfort, and diminish morale at work. The identified offices have a high ceiling, high daily temperatures, and a high ambient level. The concerns raised by the CEO seem genuine towards the improvement of office conditions, as the workplace situation is explicitly not conducive.
The majority of people who work in offices spend approximately fifty percent of their entire time in their offices and this greatly influences mental wellness and their concentration towards a performance at work (Hameed 2009). A daily high temperature of about 25ºC in an office environment is not conducive and results in several ergonomic issues including lethargy or fatigue problems among workers.
On an assessment of Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), Kim and Dear (2013) reveal that high temperatures are unfavorable to working conditions as they cause high IEQ dissatisfaction among workers. High thermal conditions result in thermal discomfort among workers, reduce their concentration levels, and consequently make employees prone to errors (Brennan, Chugh & Kline 2002). High indoor ambient conditions of 85 decibels during office hours create discomfort among workers and cause fatigue and work stress. High external temperature influences the body temperatures of individuals that cause lethargy, which affects other psychological functions including the comfort and alertness of employees.
Openness, noise, and long working hours
Open plan layouts are, without doubt, not the priority of many workers, especially the subordinates who work under pressure from top managers to meet the demands of huge tasks. According to Lundstrom et al. (2002), a work environment is conducive if it enables an effective connection between staff and considers their confidentiality and privacy. Whereas the open office layout intends to enhance communication and effective interaction among office coworkers, employees may lack job satisfaction due to this open workplace environment. In an office environment, the functional efficiency of subordinate workers sometimes relies on psychological privacy that helps them to build confidence and mitigate nervousness (Oommen, Knowles, & Zhao 2008).
Openness among offices increases nervousness and worry among subordinates, and such situations make the workplace environment dissatisfying; hence, workers become highly erroneous. Brennan, Chugh, and Kline (2002) postulate that conventional private offices with minimal social interaction and mitigated levels of noise have proven to be more satisfying to office occupants than open-plan offices.
Apart from disruptions from noise generated among office workers, workplace concentration among employees may result from poor working schedules (Brand 2008). One of the foremost concerns of the forward-thinking CEO was the tendency of employees working long hours, which exceed the normal working duration. Most of the employees according to recent research on office workers reveal that employees spend most of their work time (36%) on computers and (20%) on deskwork (Brennan, Chugh, & Kline 2002). The concentration of workers on computers and deskwork normally depends on the working hours spent in the offices.
Human performance and concentration on workplace duties tend to deteriorate significantly with working hours. When individuals work long hours that exceed the normal eight hours, they develop work stress and lethargy that affects their alertness on their work assignments (Reason 2000). Reduced concentration from fatigue developed following long working hours is a prime factor that may contribute to the concurrence of human errors.
Recommendation to the Concerns
Following the above concerns, the CEO was morally upright in proposing for assessment and change to the layout and arrangement of the trading offices. Evidence from the CEO reveals that the offices seemed congested, with ordinary working desks having little spaces between them. To amend this problem, Brand (2008) recommends that management need to restructure and redesign the offices as the foremost priority in averting ergonomics. They should replace ordinary desks with modern office seats and arrange them spaciously to reduce congestion.
After restructuring the offices to increase the interior space, offices should integrate proper natural lighting systems to avoid relying on the high-powered fluorescent bulbs. The organization should ensure that each office has enough natural lighting through effective designing of office windows (Ajala 2012). Designers should ensure that each employee or office occupant has easy access to an office window to enhance appropriate natural office lighting (Ajala 2012). These windows should have adjustable blinds or shades to control glare.
High temperatures are harmful to any office environment and it causes several physical and psychological ergonomics in an office. Mueller and Hassenzahl (2010) recommend that to fix the workplace temperature issues, an organization would have to integrate office ventilators and modern technologically enabled radiators to allow employees to regulate the interior office temperatures. Brennan, Chugh, and Kline (2002) suggest that ventilators and air conditioners will improve the quality of air and the ambient room temperatures and thus enhances workplace comfort of workers.
During the restructuring of the office, the newly hired designers need to consider sound ergonomics as a potential problem to the alertness of workers. Workmates are potential noisemakers and distractors since social interaction is a natural aspect of humans, it may prove uncontrollable in open office designs (Kearns & Sutton 2012). Developing conventional private offices, integrated with modern designing where independent office cubes separate workers, will greatly help in reducing noise and unnecessary social interaction that affects the concentration of workers.
Office ergonomics continues to affect the performance of employees and their general productivity in their workplace. Serious ergonomic issues are becoming eminent but mostly underestimated by management, despite having detrimental impacts on the financial well being of organizations. Although modern companies consider open-plan offices to be more cost-effective and efficient in the flow of work and interaction among workers, serious financial harm may result from open office layouts. In open offices, excess lighting, high ambient temperatures, and poor spatial office arrangement potentially contribute to psychological and physical ergonomics among office occupants. Hence, the appropriate design of office layout, the arrangement of furniture, and the integration of modern temperature and air conditioning can help.
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