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5 Most Common Misconceptions About Ergonomics

It's hard to know what exactly "ergonomic" means in today's world when it's used to describe everything from spatulas to loofahs. So we're breaking down the five most common misconceptions about ergonomics, and what you should know as you build a healthy workspace.

These days, the word “ergonomics” gets tossed around like a freshly made salad. We read about it in magazines, hear about it on the news, and talk loosely about it when describing the latest fads. If you really feel like your life needs an upgrade, you could track down an ergonomic version of just about anything: spatulas, loofahs, you name it. But what even is ergonomics, if it somehow covers such unrelated and disparate objects, and how did we come to use the term so generally?
The etymology of the term gives us a quick, helpful tip on what we’re actually talking about when we refer to ergonomics: in Greek, “ergon” means work, while “nomos” refers to laws. Ergonomics, then, specifically refers to the science of work, and how different lifestyle choices can optimize both our health and our output in the context of the workplace. As the meaning of “work” has taken on so many shapes – from sitting at desks to floating in space – our common understanding of ergonomics has done the same, growing increasingly nebulous. In this article, we cover the five most common misconceptions about the science of work and set the record straight:

1: "Ergonomics just refers to posture"

This is definitely the most common myth about ergonomics—that it can only refer to objects or practices that support your posture. And while so much of ergonomics does focus on ways to sustainably take care of your body at the workplace, that’s only one piece of the puzzle. In fact, ergonomics can be split up into three subsets: physical ergonomics, which focuses on physiology; cognitive ergonomics, which is concerned with mental processes like memory and reasoning; and organizational ergonomics, which analyzes how sociotechnical systems impact workers’ health and productivity.
And while posture is related to all three of these subsets in some way, shape, or form—too much time spent sitting in the workplace, for example, can take a major toll on workers’ mental healthit certainly doesn’t constitute the entire field. Ergonomics refers to a range of topics, from how to structure your workday to improve focus, to how to design a workplace in which everyone can collaborate as freely and fluently as possible.

2: "Ergonomics is everywhere"

While some people use a definition of ergonomics that’s too narrow, others use one that’s unnecessarily vague. A dining room chair, for instance, doesn't fall under the ergonomic umbrella since it has nothing to do with the workplace, even if it’s designed to encourage better posture at the dinner table. And even though that loofah and spatula we referred to earlier may be advertised as ergonomic, they probably don’t do a whole lot to improve your well-being or output at work, do they? A better word to describe these products might be “convenient” or “accommodating.” Ergonomic products are specifically those items that are designed to maximize productivity or increase comfort in the context of the workplace—anything outside of those constraints is misusing the term.

3: "Ergonomic furniture is too expensive"

As ergonomic furniture has gotten increasingly popular, we’ve grown accustomed to equating it with hefty price tags. And often rightly so; just look at the Aeron Chair from Herman Miller, which brought the concept of ergonomic seating to the forefront of workplace conversation decades ago—yet retails for over $1,000 a seat. And while there are still a number of dealers whose circuitous supply chains result in highly marked up inventory, a few vendors are finding ways to cut costs and pass those savings off to consumers. We, for one, are leading the way in cutting out middlemen to save consumers money on premier ergonomic office furniture—from office chairs to standing desks and monitor arms.

4: "Ergonomic solutions are universal"

A lot of people assume that ergonomics are a one-size-fits-all sort of deal. Really, the fact of the matter is that we all have very different physical and emotional needs, and it’s for that reason that each individual’s ergonomic solution will be unique. Thankfully, ergonomists and designers have come up with a number of solutions that are flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of needs. Almost all ergonomic office furniture is adjustable along multiple axes, and most scheduling tricks can be tweaked and adjusted to suit the circadian rhythm of your workday. Our Branch Ergonomic Chair, for one, is an extremely malleable workplace solution—it has seven points of adjustment to promote posture alignment and can comfortably support many different body types.

5: "Ergonomics doesn't work"

Some people are so skeptical of ergonomics that they arbitrarily label it a “pseudoscience.” In reality, ergonomics is a robust, growing scientific field that has done wonders to support the psychological and physical well-being of workers throughout the world and increase productivity in the workplace. Even the Center for Disease Control has a department that focuses specifically on ergonomic solutions that “promote productive workplaces through health and safety research.” Smart workplace solutions serve to lessen the likelihood of musculoskeletal disorders amongst workers and improve emotional well-being, thereby fostering healthier work environments that promote higher productivity. Employers everywhere are coming to recognize that a happier, healthier workforce can pay generous dividends, and that devoting a chunk of change to ergonomic solutions is ultimately a smart business move for any company with long-term aspirations. If nothing else, it means that employers are less likely to have to pay for workers’ compensation or medical expenses that stem from workplace injuries. By using ergonomic research to their advantage, employers and workers alike are finding ways to take care of themselves.

Now what?

Now that we’ve debunked the most common misconceptions about ergonomics, we recommend you do some research on which ergonomic solutions could help you be healthier and more productive in the workplace. You can start with our blog, which covers a wide range of ergonomic topics, from helpful stretches you can do at your desk to the benefits of having an ergonomic chair. Once you figure out and implement your own ergonomic solution, you’ll almost certainly find that the trials and tribulations of the workday have become a bit more manageable.

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