January 2017: Improve Your Call Center With An Ergonomics Makeover
Every new call center worth its salt should certainly be designed with ergonomic considerations in mind.
But what about existing call centers? Must they undergo an expensive redesign and be rebuilt from the
ground up to meet current ergonomics standards?
No, experts say. Instead, call center managers can perform an “ergonomics makeover,” an easier solution
that can achieve most of the benefits of a full redesign at a fraction of the cost. An ergonomics makeover
can include interventions of engineering or administrative elements applied simply as a tune-up addressing
an evolving riskscape.
“It’s often happened that call centers haven’t ended up being very ergonomic
from the start,” said David Meermans, systems manager at Intecom in
Addison, Texas. “Over time, the work evolves, so almost every call center
can benefit from a second look.”
What would an ergonomically correct call center
look like? According to Steelcase, “it may not be so much
how the call center itself looks, but rather how the employees in the call center are working. For example, educating employees on the importance of changing positions often, taking breaks from the computer, and exercising the eyes by shifting focus away from the computer screen and looking at distant objects are important strategies for avoiding health problems.”
Some managers may ask just what is ergonomics and why is it important in my call center? Ergonomics is
the science of fitting the job to the worker. No one would disagree with its ultimate goals, which are to make work more comfortable and improve worker health and productivity. Naturally, any rise in Workers’ Comp claims and absenteeism will be a strong tip-off of the need to take action to prevent further claims.
According to 3M, a comprehensive ergonomics approach should consider three aspects of work: the physical, the environmental and the behavioral. The physical covers achieving a good fit between workers and their workstations, as well as ensuring that tasks are varied throughout the day to avoid fatigue. The environmental covers lighting, air, temperature and other key aspects of the workplace. The behavioral relates to addressing duration and repetition by providing recovery time “during work” — for instance, micro-breaks taken throughout the day in conjunction with gentle stretching, will increase your circulation and flexibility and restore energy.
“To me, ergonomics is about ease of use,” said Laura Sikorski, managing director at Sikorski, Tuerpe and Associates, a call center consulting firm in Centerport, New York. “An ergonomics makeover must address
not just workstations or foot rests, but the entire call center.”
Ergonomics Makes Solid Business Sense
- Aside from an instinctive sense of “doing the smart thing,” call center managers will achieve important bottom-line benefits from an ergonomics makeover. Agents are the lifeblood of every call center, and savvy managers do everything in their power to nurture and maintain a competitive workforce.
Creating an ergonomically improved environment boosts morale, helping to reduce costly turnover and attract quality staff. Then there is the issue of agent efficiency and productivity — positive ergonomics helps agents get more work done — and at a higher quality level. It can also reduce absenteeism and expensive worker’s compensation claims.
Workers’ compensation brings up another incentive for an ergonomics makeover. It will reduce the disturbing rise in claims for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive
motion injuries. MSDs are the most expensive workplace injuries, accounting for $1 of every $3 spent on worker’s compensation.
If it is proved the employer was aware of an ergonomic problem and did nothing about it, the company could be guilty of what is called a “serious” violation, and the monetary penalties in this type of situation are significant. Isn’t it better to establish a systematic program now, before being subject to regulation?
Beginning The Makeover
When beginning your ergonomics makeover, a good place to start is with the employees themselves — ask for suggestions on ways to improve the environment, workspace and work processes. “Many people forget to ask the staff, but you’re going to get the most bang for your buck when the staff has at least some role in developing the makeover,” said Laura Sikorski. “They may complain about air quality, ventilation, cramped workspace, headaches, backaches, too much light, insufficient light or uncomfortable temperatures. They really need the chance to concentrate, a certain degree of privacy, easy access to job tools without awkward postures or reaching, the ability to adjust their work space and proximity to other work areas such as training or break rooms.”
For the makeover, Sikorski suggests simple measures to improve the environment, such as changing direct lighting to indirect lighting to reduce glare, replacing painted walls with fabric that absorbs sound, adding trees and plants to improve the ambiance and air quality and installing “pink noise” generators to give a sense of a lower overall noise level. “Also watch out for sick building syndrome,” she said. “Sometimes air filters are seldom changed, or companies cut off air conditioning over the weekend, allowing germs to flow back in.”
Regarding MSDs such as carpal tunnel syndrome, OSHA reports these can be prevented when companies implement an office ergonomics program. Suggested ergonomic “interventions” include working surfaces that are adjustable to reduce long reaches and awkward postures; putting work supplies and equipment within comfortable reach; encouraging short, authorized micro-breaks and exercise; and providing adjustable, ergonomic chairs.
- In the call center it’s the hands, eyes and backside that really do the work. Fundamentals today include buying the best chairs you can afford and teaching the staff how to use them. Purchase high-quality monitors with sharp displays that don’t flicker and supply keyboard trays to encourage that the workers’ wrists can be at the correct angle.
Successful office ergonomics means more than putting in some new equipment, however. Experts say that a makeover won’t succeed unless it is part of an ongoing behavioral program that includes management leadership and training. “You can have the most ergonomically correct chairs and workstations, but if they are not integrated into a program and properly used, they are completely useless,” said John Duncan. “Employees need to be trained in how to use them and be reminded regularly to take micro-breaks and do some stretching when possible. An ergonomics program is a continuous effort that requires regular coaching.”
Call Center Ergonomics Software
What is the best way to implement a comprehensive office ergonomics program for your call centers? One essential component is call center ergonomics software. As a solution that unobtrusively runs on each agent’s desktop seamlessly with your inbound or outbound call center software, it should provide an ergonomics toolkit specifically for call center agents and supervisors.
Features should include behavioral coaching, training in proper posture and workstation setup, as well as help agents rate their own posture and improve it. The software should also prompt agents “in between calls” to periodically move about when possible, stretch and take brief micro-breaks which reduce fatigue and improve productivity. Additionally, the software should reinforce good ergonomics behaviors every day, in contrast to the one-shot training session or consultant whose message quickly fades.
- Working in the background on every agent’s computer, the software electronically gathers baseline data about employee keyboard and mouse usage, such as number of keystrokes and percentage of errors. This can be a great aid to supervisors looking to understand the relation between ergonomics and agent productivity.
Summary data should be able to be easily presented through numerous management reports, helping supervisors analyze how to help each agent improve his or her job performance.
Considering New Equipment, Workstations or Training?
This type of software can also be used to assess the effectiveness of any ergonomics intervention. Through analyzing “before and after” results among a small group of agents, supervisors can learn the impact of any planned changes on call center agents.
Case Study Mitigation Results
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