March 2017: Engineering Less Discomfort and Injury
You may or may not see some of your own organization in this article, but before you read on, can you fill in the blanks in this paragraph?
- As confirmed in a number of studies, experts agree that immediately after training, less than ___% of the knowledge and skills presented in training will be effectively transferred to the employee’s work even after doing well on the final test. Later, around 6 months after training, up to ___% of the training will be lost without continual positive reinforcement. By the anniversary of the training, employees will retain perhaps ___% to ___% of the knowledge presented in the training without continual positive reinforcement.
For well over a decade, it’s been well-understood how ergonomic risk for computer users is directly correlated to employee behaviors. In fact, building on solid science, more than 30 countries now have regulations and laws covering computer users specifically citing pacing and posture behaviors.
Before discovering ErgoSuite, the majority of our clients weren’t even aware that they had cost-effective options for driving Behavioral Office Ergonomics. In almost all cases, they had been using traditional web-based eLearning to deliver knowledge training, not realized meaningful behavior changes and were no longer willing to absorb the growing costs of discomfort and injuries.
- Many organizations just hadn’t made it a priority to allocate resources for evaluating Behavioral Ergonomics Coaching and simply reconciled discomfort and injury costs as another cost of doing business. For companies today, however, these costs are impossible to ignore when exposed.
Curiously, it’s ironic how some late-comer organizations were fortunate to have avoided the very expensive multi-year education our other clients had already been through on their journey to Behavioral Ergonomics for computer-users.
What are these behaviors which we absolutely know that we want?
We absolutely DO want computer-using employees to develop these behaviors:
- work in neutral postures as often as possible
- take frequent brief microbreaks to provide recovery time while working
- move about periodically not maintaining static postures for hours on end
- vary the focus of their eyes periodically
- not sit or stand in ways which introduce contact stress
- better organize their workspace to reduce inefficient actions
Equally important, we DO NOT want employees to be thinking ergonomics while they’re working but instead we want them to automatically express these behaviors while they work, no differently than how you automatically put on your seatbelt when you get into your car today without thinking about it.
As such, best practices have evolved including some solid elements such as purchasing adjustable furniture, assessing and adjusting workstations, providing knowledge training – all in an effort to encourage employees to forge the new behaviors listed above.
Unfortunately in many cases, as assured by an optimistic vendor, efforts culminate with eLearning knowledge training and some follow-up emails from an automated system. What’s worse, is that when behavior change results are lacking after a year or two of new investment, the vendor’s battle cry is often “more training!“. Now the cycle starts again and on the surface it feels insidiously good because it’s clear and measurable in that you know who did and didn’t take the course, but what behaviors were changed? We might as well throw a course at smokers and expect them to change their behaviors after 30 minutes.
Is training your goal? Is workstation adjustment your goal?
- No, these are not goals but are actually tactical objectives which help you reach your desired goal. This difference is vital to identify in order to properly frame what’s needed (coaching) in Office Ergonomics to complete the holistic solution puzzle ending up with automatic good ergonomic behaviors.
- A goal is a broad primary outcome:
“ABC Company’s goal is to reduce ergonomic injuries to well below 33% of overall injuries.”
- A strategy is the approach taken to achieve a goal:
“ABC Company’s strategy is to further reduce risk factors within our facilities for computer-using employees.”
- An objective is a measureable step taken to achieve a strategy:
“ABC Company’s objectives include empowering employees so they can learn the basics, improve their workstation, forge automatic good ergonomics behaviors, participate in the solution and share responsibility for comfortable, safe and productive time on the computer.”
- A tactic is a plan or tool used in pursuing an objective associated with a strategy:
“Some of ABC Company’s tactics used to achieve our objectives include providing adjustable furniture and equipment, using online knowledge training and leveraging point-of-use behavioral coaching software.”
- Coaching is a training or development process via which an individual is continually supported while achieving a specific behavioral personal or professional competence result or goal:
“ABC Company already utilizes behavioral coaches for leadership training, wellness coaching, career coaching, and now ergonomics coaching through empowering employees with ErgoSuite.”
Behavioral Training Begins With Knowledge Transfer – But Doesn’t End There
Sure, knowledge training and workstation adjustment are important to include in your program recipe, however, they are simply components of the overall program and not “Behavioral Training”, no more than a flathead screwdriver is a chisel. They can appear similar on the surface, however, they are different tools with different purposes.
If you’re in EH&S working on Office Ergonomics like our clients, your top goal is “to reduce ergonomics costs including, of course, injuries”. With your professional training and knowledge, you employ some important tactics to best position the employee for success:
Training is an important “tactic” that, when performed, brings us closer to our objectives as we educate employees about the risks, their role and ways to reduce risks.
Experts, however, agree that immediately after training, less than 50% of the knowledge and skills presented in training will be effectively transferred to the employee’s work even after doing well on the final test. Later, around 6 months after training, up to 75% of the training will be lost without continual positive reinforcement. By the anniversary of the training, employees will retain perhaps 10% to 15% of the knowledge presented in the training without continual positive reinforcement.
Workstation adjustment is also a very important “tactic” that, when met, brings us closer to our objectives since we know that the “chances” that an employee will use neutral postures increases when we set up their workstation to encourage neutral posture behaviors.
There are some tremendous benefits to be realized from adjusting someone’s workstation but what happens to those adjustments a week after you were there? How about after a month? Six months? Moreover, it is an enormous leap of faith and assumption that the employee will work in the adjusted workstation with their body in the desired positioning for any period of time, if at all. That desired outcome is a function of changing deep-rooted established behaviors.
Providing great basic office ergonomics training and even an anthropometrically perfect goniometer-adjusted workstation provides great benefits but only a marginal possibility that the employee develops new long-term good ergonomic behaviors especially when replacing years of poor ergonomic behaviors they’ve developed on their own.
The heartfelt hope of such a thing contradicts 100 years of Applied Behavioral Analysis and Behavior Theory.
Understanding this is a vital last step towards your fully solving the problem and attaining your goal.
Are We Belted?
For any person’s behavior to change, there must be continual stimulus (Operant Conditioning) to first unlearn prior long-lived behavior and then make new behaviors automatic.
The perfect analog to using tools in this way can be found in automobile seat belt reminders. Many years ago, people were trained in Driver’s Education classes that it’s a vital best practice to wear their seat belts.
After some time, it became law throughout the land, however, it was still tragically discovered that providing training was not enough to effect a behavior change in drivers. This is an example of a Cumulative Training Disorder – which is curable. Even adjusting the positioning of the seat belt system (which increased the likelihood of proper use like adjusting a workstation to encourage neutral postures) was not enough.
- Eventually, drivers were provided simple point-of-use tools to reinforce and foster the proper behaviors which came in the form of a very simple active reminder system. It was simple, effective and did in fact change the behavior of most of the population.
Carefully integrated computer-based tools, also known as desktop tools, ensure timely and relevant positive reinforcement for employees at the point of need at precisely the time of need, as their situation changes throughout their time working.
Attempts to emulate this, perhaps with email reminders, are ineffective and fail in the long-term because they arrive unaware of the employee’s real-time situation upon receipt – which negates hopeful effectiveness and undercuts relevance, credibility and impact.
Returning to our seat belt analog, with a web-based approach you would mail letters (or send emails) to people reminding them to wear their seat belts – which of course could not make good behaviors automatic.
When you get into your automobile, do you automatically reach for the seatbelt without thinking about it? Of course you do, most of the time… When Relapse Theory materializes and you’re focused on something else while getting into your car, does your seat belt reminder system help you get back with the program? Of course it does.
As an employer and most importantly as an effective problem-solver, do you want computer-using employees to have to think about neutral postures and pacing all through their day – or do you want it to be automatic?
Our last thought on this relates to personal relevance simply to reinforce the main theme here. Your daughter, son, wife or husband has a new car. You’ve told them about seat belts and it was taught to them in Driver’s Education training. Is that enough? Do you want them to have an active point-of-use reminder system to reinforce and develop the good behavior or does it not matter? The answer is obvious when you’ve studied, understood and identified the problem.
Immediacy of Threat
Now you might consider that “you” would wear your seatbelt even without an automatic reminder system. Please bear in mind two things:
- First, you’re a highly skilled trained professional whose primary job, at least in part, is to know this subject matter and it’s ramifications at a deep level, and
- Next, each employee’s primary job and training have nothing to do with ergonomics and they have primary stressors they’re dealing with such as workload, deadlines, performance issues and that’s just the work-related short list…
The rub here is that in Office Ergonomics the potential negative outcome facing well-meaning employees is something which occurs over time in a cumulative manner. There is no immediacy of threat (a strong motivator in Applied Behavioral Analysis) such as what clearly exists when training someone how to safely use a high speed metal band saw or other equipment in an industrial setting.
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