Office ergonomics

More episodes in the Work Factors Podcast

What does ergonomics actually mean? And what does it have to do with your keyboard? Find out on this first episode of Work Factors.

Episode Transcript

Adam Pickens:  Howdy, everybody. Welcome to the first episode of Work Factors. I’m your host, Adam Pickens. I’m here with my eternal co-host and expert for the day. You’re an eternal expert, but I guess you’re really my expert co-host, Martha Parker.

Martha Parker: Well, thank you. Thanks, Dr. Pickens. I am honored to be here.

Adam Pickens:  It’s okay. Please don’t call me Dr. Pickens.

Martha Parker: Okay. I won’t call you Dr. Pickens.

Adam Pickens:  It’s weird.

Martha Parker: Thank you, Adam.

Adam Pickens:  You’re very welcome.

Martha Parker: Thank you, Adam. You said eternal so much. I’m thinking I’m probably some kind of being, but really just a person. But I am really honored to be here. Thank you.

Adam Pickens:  Maybe eternal is not the right word. We can edit that later.

Martha Parker: We’ll edit that.

Adam Pickens:  Martha will be my co-host moving forward. But I’ve got Martha on the first episode because Martha is an ergonomist, much like myself. I wanted to have a brief conversation with Martha about office ergo because that’s what you did up until joining the Texas A&M Ergonomics Center. Give us a little bit of that background if you would please.

Martha Parker: Sure. Yes, ergonomics is as you will find out as you listen to more episodes of this podcast, you’ll find out it’s super broad, and office ergonomics is just a piece of that overall kind of work factor balance. Office ergonomics, just like it says, takes place in the office.

Adam Pickens:  The office.

Martha Parker: I know.

Adam Pickens:  There it is.

Martha Parker: We deal mostly with people that are working on the computer. Because most office jobs are centered around the computer and interacting with that. Whether it’s typing or mousing or reading or sitting and having meetings. All of those activities that go in inside the office are things that we look at with people.

Adam Pickens:  You had your own company. You’ve done this a lot.

Martha Parker: I’m not going to tell you how many years.

Adam Pickens:  No. No. No. It’s okay. It matters not. We just leave it out there.

Martha Parker: Thank you. I’m an expert.

Adam Pickens:  Yes, there it is, expert.

Martha Parker: Expert.

Adam Pickens:  Expert co-host. One of the things that I always get whenever I tell people I’m an ergonomist, they always say, “You just give folks a new keyboard, right?” What is your response to that as somebody who’s done thousands and thousands of office ergo evals?

Martha Parker: Well, first I have to get past the word ergonomist. Because they say, “Oh, you do like golf course grass.” I’m like, “No, I’m not an agronomist.”

Adam Pickens:  See I didn’t make that connection.

Martha Parker: Yeah, people get us confused with the grass. Then they get us confused with economics and think we do money.

Adam Pickens:  See I’ve gotten that one.

Martha Parker: Right. But no, we do ergonomics. Ergo is the Greek root that means work and nomos is the study of work. That’s what we study. The next question, once we get past the ergonomist part is, “So, what do you do?” Everybody wants to know about everybody’s job, but they really want to know what they do. My response to that is, “I help people be more productive in the office while decreasing their risk of having an injury or illness.” That’s really great because then their next question is, “Okay, so what do you do?”

Adam Pickens:  How do you go about doing that?

Martha Parker: How do you do this? Because there’s some action. It’s a verb, doing.

Adam Pickens:  We’re actually getting something accomplished by doing this.

Martha Parker: I talk to people when I go in and perform an ergonomic evaluation, say of someone in their office. I will spend about 45 minutes with the employee. I’ll find out not only about their job, what their job requirements are, what they’re supposed to be doing, how they fit in an organization.

But I will also find out about the person. Because the way we work ergonomics is really looking at that interface between the person and the tools, tasks, and the environment. You can know the tools, the tasks, and the environment, but if you don’t know the person, then you really can’t maximize that interface between the two of them.

Adam Pickens:  It’s great that you bring that up because that’s one of the things I talk to people a lot about. Because even though I do office ergo, historically, most of my ergonomics has been in industry. Therefore I’m going out in industry and I’m watching people do their job. I’m talking to them about how they do it and things like that, but really it’s about building that relationship and understanding how the person does their job. Whether you’re out in industry or sitting at the office, you have to understand who they are and how they accomplish their jobs so that you can understand how to go about helping them.

Martha Parker: That’s right.

Adam Pickens:  Because that’s really what we are in it for. We want to help them, right?

Martha Parker: 100%, because if the person, and this is where we go back to the kind of the basics of ergonomics, if the person in the office or in the industrial setting is more productive, then ideally you can make some leaps that say they’re going to be able to do more. They’re going to be able to work without having discomfort. They’re going to be able to do something faster or do something with less effort.

It’s a bottom line positive, but it’s really hard sometimes to put that in in the office environment because we’re all so mixed and mashed. Getting to know the person and understanding the relationship is absolutely key.

Adam Pickens:  I want to come back to the how you get stuff done question, but you touched on a point there that is something I run into a lot and I have run into. I’m teaching an undergrad class right now where we’re talking about ergo. Eventually, it’s going to come to the point of making the case for ergonomics. If I watch somebody lifting a 100 pound box 20 times an hour, eight hours a day, it doesn’t take a giant leap for me to say they ought not to be doing that. That’s shocking. Right?

Martha Parker: I know.

Adam Pickens:  But in the office, I think historically I’ve had more difficulty in the office convincing people the need for office ergonomics because somebody says, “Well, they’re just sitting at their desk all day.” How do you respond to that? Because I think every company innately is going to have that question, “Well, they’re not doing anything.”

Martha Parker: Right.

Adam Pickens:  What do you respond to?

Martha Parker: Well, and I think there are two different ways to respond to that. One is with a fit answer.

Adam Pickens:  Not like a child fit.

Martha Parker: No, not like a throwing a fit answer. Not like, “Dang it, just understand what I’m doing.” Not that kind of fit, but a physical fit. Also the second thing I would combat the how do we justify office ergonomics is I just lost it. I don’t even know what it was.

Adam Pickens:  Wow.

Martha Parker: I’m going to talk about that fit thing.

Adam Pickens:  I’m sure it was spectacular though.

Martha Parker: It was. It was so good.

Adam Pickens:  We’ll come back to that.

Martha Parker: The fit argument is that if you can fit a person say in a better chair for them that actually fits and adjust to them instead of having to force them to fit to the chair. If you can provide say a keyboard that fits their hands better, their finger or the way that they type, if you can provide a mouse that fits their hand better, that allows them to do something with less pain, those are all fit features. If a person doesn’t experience any discomfort because they are comfortable, then you can make the leap that they’re going to be more productive. Because they’re not wasting mental and physical energy on being in pain. If I’m not in pain, I don’t have to focus on the pain. I don’t have to think about the pain. I just do my job. I get a physical, we call that margin.

Adam Pickens:  There it is.

Martha Parker: You get a little bit of margin.

Adam Pickens:  Yes.

Martha Parker: When you’re not in physical pain.

Adam Pickens:  I’m sorry. I should have helped you out on that one.

Martha Parker: I know. Well, you didn’t know where I was going.

Adam Pickens:  I just couldn’t see where you were going with that. I’m sorry.

Martha Parker: Can’t you see I’m drawing a piece of paper?

Adam Pickens:  I know.

Martha Parker: Then the over here is this.

Adam Pickens:  It’s clear as a bell now.

Martha Parker: It’s a margin. If you provide something that fits for somebody, physically they get a little bit of margin, but they also don’t have to think about being in pain. They get a little mental margin. When you get mental margin, then you can do more work differently or better. To make the case for office ergonomics, we talk about fit, which we did. The other one is productivity.

Adam Pickens:  There it is.

Martha Parker: When you look at office productivity, super hard, really really difficult to measure.

Adam Pickens:  That’s like the Holy Grail.

Martha Parker: It is the Holy Grail of office ergonomics. Because think about it. If you’re in an office, you do so many things. You multitask, you read email, you go to meetings, you respond to things, you work in Excel, you make some pretty spreadsheets and then, oh, you are a PowerPoint ranger, right? But what does that mean? How do we say that sitting in a meeting is not productive while typing on a computer is productive?

Well, typing on a computer or mousing you could be getting on some shopping website and scrolling through and picking out your groceries. I mean, is that productive at your job? It may be. I don’t know, but we’re all different. We all have different job tasks. Trying to measure that productivity is really difficult in the office.

Go back to the fit and if you have stuff, I’m going to say stuff, meaning all the stuff, the keyboard, the chair, the mouse, the monitor, all the stuff. If you have the table, if you have the workstation, if you all the things that fit you well, then yes, we’d like to make the leap that you’ll be more productive. But that’s so hard to measure unless you’re doing something monotonous and repetitive.

Now in today’s environment, those jobs are few and far between because those monotonous and repetitive things are all done by computers, artificial intelligence, expert systems. People don’t do those jobs anymore. That’s good and bad. I mean it’s good because we get to use our brains for something bigger and better and more creative work and we use less of our brains for the monotony. When we talk about office ergonomics and making the case for that, we want to try to get people away from those kind of monotonous jobs and into more kind of deep thinking or creative roles.

Adam Pickens:  Little more dynamic tasks.

Martha Parker: Right? Measuring productivity is difficult in the office environment.

Adam Pickens:  Well, and that was one of the things, we as the Ergo Center have done things in the past where we try to measure productivity. We have software running in the background. It’s like you mentioned, it’s keystrokes and mouse clicks and scrolls of the mouse and all these other variables that kind of measure the background stuff without-

Martha Parker: I think there are 37 of them.

Adam Pickens:  Yeah, I believe there are 37.

Martha Parker: They go like every five a minute or something. Or five a second. I don’t know.

Adam Pickens:  It’s five a second I think, the software that we use.

Martha Parker: Big data.

Adam Pickens:  Yeah, big data. It produces a ton of data, but we’re having a hard time really understanding what it means. Your daily task and my daily task can be so variable. I mean, it’s kind of like you said, how do we know that you’re not scrolling around YouTube looking for a video? For me, one of the things that I do is I try to have a YouTube video if possible in class. My scrolling around YouTube technically is productive, but as I’m scrolling up and down just looking for a video that might be appropriate, technically the software-

Martha Parker: Which is hard to find.

Adam Pickens:  It’s terribly hard to find. But one of the things that we had is we had a study here a couple of years ago that actually got some press out of it. It was because the work population that we had, we tried to fit them with standing desks and look at productivity changes, but the population itself was one of those that had a monotonous job. It was a call center. Their productivity task was very easy. How many calls did they close during the course of a day? How many widgets did they sell during the course of that day? It’s pretty straightforward, but you’re right, those jobs are few and far between.

As we look at making those office ergo changes, you mentioned kind of the pain a couple of times. One of the things that I tend to lean towards because I do a lot of safety, is the idea of moving away from kind of these lagging indicators of pain and discomfort and things like that, moving into a leading indicator model so that you’re kind of looking at potential harm. How do people feel about their workstation? A lot of survey questions-

Martha Parker: Oh, but that’s squishy.

Adam Pickens:  It is.

Martha Parker: That stuff’s so squishy.

Adam Pickens:  It’s hard.

Martha Parker: People don’t like the squishy.

Adam Pickens:  People don’t like the squishy stuff, but it’s real.

Martha Parker: It is.

Adam Pickens:  I talk to a lot of my colleagues that do a lot of this stuff. There is something to be said for that. I don’t know that we apply that enough to the ergonomics model in the office. Again, out in the work plant, people putting together widgets all day, you might hear Martha laughing in the background. We had a discussion on widgets earlier today.

But if you’re putting widgets together, it’s a little bit easier to have that discussion of, “Well, they might produce more widgets at the end of the day if they’re more satisfied with their job. If there any one of the number of leading indicators that we could throw out there.”

Martha Parker: We talk about discomfort. Discomfort as is always perceived. You can’t really objectively measure discomfort. It’s always how you feel. But we don’t measure a lot of perceived productivity. I feel like I’m 70% more productive since I got this mouse.

Well, I was a part of a study in a large organization where we provided employees a different kind of input device, a different kind of tool to do their job. They were seismic interpreters. They were basically, if you’re not familiar with the oil and gas world, they were artists. They were drawing. They were picking seismic.

They were trying to find oil and gas in these reservoirs of nothing but squiggly lines. That’s what it looks like from the outside. It’s like colorful squiggly lines. They were like, “This is where the oil is.” It’s just crazy to watch them work. But we provided this tool for them and their perceived productivity was upwards of 70%. They felt like they were that more productive when they got to use this tool and it worked perfectly for them.

Well, that’s great. These people are making, $100,000-plus a year, but if you can increase their perception of their own productivity by 70%, that’s a lot of money to the bottom line. But again, it’s hard because they’re doing intellectual work, not making widgets.

Adam Pickens:  I think that’s one of the things is we struggle a lot with that. Because there are studies that show the worker’s perception of their task, if it becomes more positive then they will often times be more productive.

Martha Parker: Correct.

Adam Pickens:  But then, there’s the other side of that coin as well. But I think a lot of the times, with this intellectual work like they were doing, is there, I don’t know. I’ve seen people do it, but I have no idea. Is there a way that you can measure? Do they find more oil? Do they do it quicker?

Martha Parker: Again, it was perception. They were up to 50% faster, felt 70% more productive. But we didn’t run the study-

Adam Pickens:  But, it’s still their perception of it.

Martha Parker: … of course long enough to find out, “Did this team that was given this tool, did they actually find more stuff?” We don’t know. We know that that overall group was successful. They found a big reservoir of full good stuff, but we don’t know if like those specific people-

Adam Pickens:  Don’t know the direct correlation between the new stuff that they got-

Martha Parker: That’s right.

Adam Pickens:  How often has it been your experience that just kind of throwing stuff at somebody, and I am not saying you as Martha Parker would ever just throw stuff at somebody, but how often has it been your experience that people actually need new keyboards or a new input device, like a mouse or a track pad or something, new chair, new desk?

I see the desks that we’re sitting at right now. It’s got really square edges and I want to change it in everything that I’m worth. Because it just, it’s a soft tissue injury waiting to happen.

Martha Parker: It even looks painful.

Adam Pickens:  It does.

Martha Parker: My eyes go-

Adam Pickens:  I know. I’m just sitting here staring at it. But how oftentimes do you need a hardware change? How oftentimes do you just need to teach people better how to use what they’ve got?

Martha Parker: That’s a great question and it’s not easily answered. I know.

Adam Pickens:  I’m batting a thousand today.

Martha Parker: It’s so nice if we had yes or no’s on this stuff.

Adam Pickens:  In your experience.

Martha Parker: I like to think of it kind of as a continuum. With companies that are, like you said earlier, kind of reactive, they tend to be the more stuff-oriented companies. I’m just going to throw some stuff at my people and they will feel better and do better. There’s that. I’m brought in as a consultant. “Please help us find the best stuff.” That’s what we do. We do probably 80% stuff, 20% behavior change.

Then as the company becomes more mature and it starts looking at, “Okay, we know this stuff is not the end all be all. It’s not going to fix the whole problem. We’ve got to look at work, the tasks, and the environment, not just the tools.” Then it kind of flip flops on the percentage of recommendations. Instead of 80/20, we flip to 20/80. It becomes 20% product and stuff and 80% behavior recommendations or work modifications or how you do your job differently or habits that you can take on to make yourself a healthier person. Regardless of your environment, you’re going to do better and feel better.

It’s on a continuum. Of course there are companies that are like 50/50. I used to tell my clients that if you bring me in when somebody is hurt or going out for surgery and you want to fix their workstations so that when they come back they won’t have that same injury, it’s too late. I will do my best and I will help them and they will feel great and it hopefully won’t happen again, but they tend to look at it just for that individual. Not for all their employees or a subset of their employees, is just for this one person.

Adam Pickens:  Not as part of an overall wellness idea.

Martha Parker: No. It’s a total individual … like, “Susie’s got carpal tunnel syndrome. Come in here and fix her.” Well, I am not a medical professional. I’m real clear about that. I’m your ergonomist and that’s what we do. There is no blood in this. There’s no 9-1-1 calls. It is-

Adam Pickens:  We hope not, anyway.

Martha Parker: No.

Adam Pickens:  Although, if you sit at this desk long enough you might.

Martha Parker: You might.

Adam Pickens:  There might be some blood involved. Sorry.

Martha Parker: It’s probably just a quick stab to the chest. Please don’t make me do anymore.

Adam Pickens:  I’m thinking more … never mind. Sorry, go ahead.

Martha Parker: It’s a difficult question to answer Adam, but I think it’s along a continuum. But very rarely do I not make some sort of product recommendation. Because tools are always changing. I mean, there’s always different ways to interact. I’ve worked with disabled people that don’t have hands or arms or legs or they have low vision. What are we going to do for them?

Adam Pickens:  I think a lot of the studies in ergo kind of will play out to that. The percentages might be a little bit different, but I would totally agree with you that if, I think every study that I’ve ever read on ergo in the office says if you’d just come throw stuff at people and run out the door, your likelihood of success is really, really low.

Martha Parker: Oh, it’s horrible.

Adam Pickens:  But if you go in and you have the training that goes along with it and investment in the individual rather than just investment in the equipment-

Martha Parker: That’s right.

Adam Pickens:  You’re going to have, maybe not at a home run success every time, but you’re going to have a much higher rate of success.

Martha Parker: Well, and to your point earlier about how what we do at the very beginning or what we do when we do office ergonomics is develop that relationship with somebody. When we do introduce a new piece of equipment, if I teach you how to use it, you’re going to use it. You really are.

Especially if I stand there and help you understand it and watch you and give you some feedback and some tips, you’re going to be much more likely to uptake the use of that piece of equipment, even though it’s new and uncomfortable and awkward, than if I just threw it at you and turn around and walk away. That developing that relationship is absolutely key. We can’t forget about the person.

Adam Pickens:  I think a lot of what you’re saying there kind of plays out in some of the newer studies that we’re doing. Which we will have on a later podcast with Dr. Mark Benden.

Martha Parker: You going to call him “Dr. Benden?”

Adam Pickens:  I will call him Dr. Mark Benden right now, but then we’ll see how it plays out later.

Martha Parker: I’m just checking.

Adam Pickens:  Dr. Benden has been kind of on the forefront of the standing desk and changing from a sit/stand to a seated workstation, all this other stuff. I’ve been on a number of studies with him. One of the things that we see kind of what you’re talking about to your point is the adoption phases.

Martha Parker: That’s right.

Adam Pickens:  That’s essentially what we’ll call it. We’ll put somebody in a new standing desk and we’ll watch kind of how frequently they can change. Because we have some software that can monitor that. Within the first six weeks, man, they love it.

Martha Parker: Up and down. Up and down. Up and down.

Adam Pickens:  Up and down all the time. Well, I say all the time, but-

Martha Parker: At least three or four times a day.

Adam Pickens:  Yeah. Then they’ll average out to about half a time a day. They will change once every two days over the course of a few months. There are some intervention methods that have come out of those studies. I think what you’re saying is this investment in the people in the office ergo. You’ve got to invest in more than just the equipment.

Martha Parker: That’s right.

Adam Pickens:  Because they’re the ones adopting it. You as the consultant ergonomist may come in and say, “Here’s what you got to do. Oh yeah, by the way, tomorrow I’m out of here.” It goes back to a lot of the tenets of good safety models and good ergo programs. You got to have company buy it. You’ve got to have management buy in.

On an office ergo situation, you can’t have somebody that comes in like you as the ergonomist and says, “I need you to do these things differently. I need you to use this equipment because it’ll help you feel better and it will ease this pain or ease this potential for future injury on you.” Then they go into their supervisor’s office and they see them using whatever cheap piece of junk came with it. They say, “Well, why am I the one doing this?”

Martha Parker: That’s right.

Adam Pickens:  I think you have to combat a lot of that to get the overall success of the program up and running.

Martha Parker: One of the best things I did, and it took me a long time to kind of get the guts to do it, was I would have a client who would call me, “Please, can you come evaluate this group of people? They really need help. They’re starting a new project and we really want to make sure they are set up from the get go.”

“Great. No problem.” I would put it in my contracts that you actually had to do what I said.

Adam Pickens:  Wow.

Martha Parker: You had to make an honest effort to buy different pieces of equipment if I recommended it. If I could do a good, better, best approach or something along that for budgetary purposes. But if you were calling me in just to write a report and do an evaluation for employees so that you could say it was done, I didn’t do that. I made that company commit to following through with my action plan.

Adam Pickens:  This is the first time I’ve ever heard anybody actually doing that in a contract.

Martha Parker: It was great. There were companies that said, “Well no, I don’t.” I was like, “Then I’m not your ergonomist. Thank you. Go somewhere else.”

Adam Pickens:  They just wanted a box to be checked.

Martha Parker: They did. They wanted a box to be checked. They did their best as company A to service this employee who was having problems or this group of employees. “Look what we did. We’re so great.” I said, “No. I’m not going to work for you.”

Adam Pickens:  That’s interesting.

Martha Parker: It was really nerve-racking the first time I did it. I was like, “Oh, my gosh. Because that’s money out the door and I’m a consultant. I don’t get paid if I don’t work.” It was terrible, but the level of good that I felt was immeasurable. Because I knew I’d done the right thing.

Adam Pickens:  That’s your job satisfaction.

Martha Parker: Those employees may not have gone and done the right thing because they didn’t get any help. But I knew I did the right thing for my current and future clients too. Because I was making my reputation better. Instead of degrading it by coming in and just throwing equipment at somebody or not following up or not having the company support my recommendations.

Adam Pickens:  I think this is an interesting point to kind of sum up here. I think one of the things that we as ergonomists, I don’t want to say get a bad rap for, but I think sometimes people think ergonomists just want to come in and buy new equipment and run out the door. That’s really not what we want to do. We want to impact change on people. That helps us if we can see somebody that’s affected by the work that we’ve done. Do you have any times where you went back and you saw somebody and you were like, “Yep, we got that one right.”

Martha Parker: Oh, the best. Absolutely the best I’ve worked with. It goes back to the developing relationships. One of the best stories was I was helping this woman and she had been an employee at this company for like 25 years. Her husband had retired. He was at home and kind of driving her crazy. She was using work as an escape to kind of get away from him. She would come to work, but she would overwork and wouldn’t take breaks and wouldn’t do all this stuff. I made her put it on her calendar that every day at 10:00, she took a 10 minute walk and every day at 2:15, she took a 15 minute walk.

It didn’t matter where she went. But it was like a standing appointment on her calendar. She invited me. Sometimes I would meet her depending if I was on site that day. We did that for a year. But because I had met her so many times just walking around, her daughter had just started driving. She was 15 and a half, I think. She was practicing her driving skills. This woman comes, we meet in the hallway, we’re going to do our 10 minute walk and she’s got big tears stains down her cheeks. I said, “What’s wrong?”

She goes, “I really need your help.” I was like, “Oh, my gosh, ergonomic emergency. I’m right here. Let me get my cape.” It wasn’t that at all. She was like, “My daughter has started driving. It’s making me crazy and she drives to school and then she drives me to work and dropped me off. I just can’t do it. It’s so terrible. Will you please drive with my daughter?” I was like, “Oh,”-

Adam Pickens:  Was that in your contract?

Martha Parker: It was not in my contract, but it was the personal relationship. But the level of her stress. I did actually meet her daughter a couple of weekends and we drove around. But the level of stress that went down when she didn’t have to be the only one who drove with her daughter, because dad refused to, that her work was better. I thought, “That was a right decision.” That was a right decision for me to drive around the mall parking lot with her daughter to take that level of stress off so that she could do her job better with less pain.

Now, that’s an extreme example and I understand.

Adam Pickens:  We’re not advocating that all ergonomists go drive around with teenage girls.

Martha Parker: No, that wouldn’t.

Adam Pickens:  As a matter of fact, I might get arrested for that one.

Martha Parker: Yeah. Don’t do it. It’s bad.

Adam Pickens:  I don’t recommend doing that.

Martha Parker: But have an impact-

Adam Pickens:  There’s a bigger story to be told here.

Martha Parker: That’s right. Have an impact in people’s lives is something that is truly rewarding and did happen just about every day. You’d get in the car and you’d go, “Man, I really did it today.” When people didn’t know, for instance, that mice came in different sizes. I said, “Oh, you’ve got a really tiny hand. We need to get you a little baby mouse.” They were like, “What?” I’m like, “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We’ll just get you a little one.”

Adam Pickens:  It’s not just the one that comes with my computer? Those aren’t all?

Martha Parker: No. They have sizes. Or the lefties who didn’t know that you could switch the button on a mouse and move it over to the left and-

Adam Pickens:  I’m a lefty and I’ve got a track pad. I use my left hand. I had some students come in the other day and they said, “Oh, my gosh. You’re using your left hand.”

Martha Parker: That’s right.

Adam Pickens:  I said, “Yeah.”

Martha Parker: It’s life changing.

Adam Pickens:  It’s life changing.

Martha Parker: It’s little pieces of life changing. But if you add enough of those pieces up, then you do change somebody’s life for the better. It’s really good to be a part of.

Adam Pickens:  That’s what I always tell the students is, as an ergonomist or a safety professional, you’re selling something innately.

Martha Parker: 100%.

Adam Pickens:  You’re selling-

Martha Parker: It’s not just ergonomists or safety professionals. It’s everybody.

Adam Pickens:  That’s true.

Martha Parker: Everybody’s selling something. They’re selling their time. Their selling their knowledge. They’re selling their expertise. They’re selling a product or a widget or an experience.

Adam Pickens:  That’s just it. In this world of office ergo, a lot of the times I think my saying applies. I tell the students, “You’re selling something and if they’re not buying it, you need to sell it a different way.”

Martha Parker: That’s right.

Adam Pickens:  Because you know you’re doing the right thing for these people. It’s just, I think we come full circle and a lot of people don’t understand the role of the ergonomist in office ergo. They kind of have a vague generality of what we might do, but really it’s, we’re there to make a change for the better.

Martha Parker: Right. We’re not just problem solvers. We get brought in on the reactive side to be the problem solver. “Here, solve this problem.” But what really, at least to me, makes my day better as an ergonomist is when I can get on the front side and really work with people so that they don’t even get to the point where they’re in discomfort or they feel like they’re not doing their job better.

They come to me and say, “I want to do my job better. What can I do?” I’ve got a long list of stuff for them to try. That part’s super cool. If you approach ergonomics as a problem solver, you’re going to get stuck. There are only so many problems you can solve.

You don’t want to create problems because that makes you a hurricane and that’s not good. You don’t want that either. But you do want to be responsive when someone comes to you in a proactive way and says, “Hey, can you help me?” Because no one likes to say no to the question of, “Can you help me?” We’re all altruistic enough to be able to answer that question. Even you. I know. Can you help me?

Adam Pickens:  No. I was big eyeing you on the altruistic.

Martha Parker: Yeah. I know, big word. We’re all altruistic enough to be able to say, “Sure, I’ll help you,” and if you can’t help, you’ll figure out a way or you’ll find somebody who can. That’s the proactive part of being an ergonomist and helping people be better, work better, be more productive without pain.

Adam Pickens:  Excellent. All right. Well, that is our first episode. Thank you very much, Martha. I look forward to you being a co-host with me in future episodes, but I thank you for serving as expert this first episode.

Martha Parker: You’re welcome. Thanks, Adam.

Adam Pickens:  All right. Thank you everybody for listening to Work Factors.

Martha Parker: See you next episode.