Adapting to Technology, Mobility and a Changing Workplace

Young businesswoman pressing colorful mobile app icons with bokeSince the advent of the personal computer (circa 1980) ergonomists have been warning both computer users and the companies they work for alike, that poor posture, outdated or deficient equipment and flawed movements may contribute to fatigue, discomfort, pain and if unchecked, injury.

It is not too difficult to figure out that a person, who is dealing with any of the above symptoms, is more amenable to advice, recommendations and behavioral changes. And while most of us would rather believe that a new piece of equipment (i.e. a chair, mouse, keyboard tray etc.) will solve our problems and alleviate symptoms, slowly but surely, over the past 30 plus years we have come to realize that physical “behavior” is a critical component in our well being at work and at “play”.

However, without organizational buy-in and support, it would next to impossible to truly address these issues in a substantive manner. Once again, slowly but surely, over the past 30 years or so, many of the more forward thinking and  progressive companies have come to understand that healthy and happy and injury free employees are more productive and only add to the “bottom-line”.

So why is repetitive strain injury (RSI) still so pervasive? And what can be done to further minimize exposure and risk to RSI?

Let’s take a look at three major factors that contribute to RSI retaining a worrisome and strong foothold in the Worker’s Comp rolls of present day corporate America.

1)    Technology. The advance of technology and “connectivity” to many more devices, which leads to an aggregate increase in the amount of time (RSI exposure: “duration”) that an individual is interfacing with devices. There were no tablets, smart phones and networking 25-30 years ago.  A report by Experian shows that Americans devote 58 minutes on their smartphones each day, with texting and calling taking up the majority of that time (

2)    Mobility. Plain and simple! As we have the need to take our world with us in order to conduct business, play games and communicate with others, our tech needs are anchored in how mobile we can be and still accomplish our goals. While ergonomists have tackled the desktop and fixed work environments that historically caused so many discomforts and injuries in the past, we are struggling to keep up with the deleterious effects of mobility and the best ways to keep folks healthy and safe when their environment is constantly changing and shifting location. In addition, the mobile devices themselves create unique and problematic behavioral challenges regarding posture and the fine motor skills (repetitive motions) needed to operate them “efficiently”. According to BBC News, RSI, which is normally associated with office workers who spend hours hunched over a computer keyboard is becoming common in children addicted to technology (June 9, 2006). This does not bode well for the comfort of future generations of workers!

3)    Declining Workforce. As economic realities become more ensconced in the corporate landscape, we have found that companies are using technology to replace tasks that heretofore were performed by people. This leads to a greater reliance on technology and less workers to handle all the associated and related tasks created by that technology. In short, there are less people to do more work and that creates a more intense and stressful environment for a work force. According to economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin “A technology revolution is fast replacing human beings with machines in virtually every sector and industry in the global economy. Already, millions of workers have been permanently eliminated from the economic process, and whole work categories and job assignments have shrunk, been restructured, or disappeared. Global unemployment has now reached its highest level since the great depression of the 1930s. More than 800 million human beings are now unemployed or underemployed in the world. That figure is likely to rise sharply between now and the turn of the century as millions of new entrants into the workforce find themselves without jobs.” (NEW TECHNOLOGY AND THE END OF JOBS from The Case Against the Global Economy and For a Turn Towards the Local”,1996. )

This was written in 1996! In the past 15 plus years this reality has only been further supported by facts: greater dependence on tech and less jobs being performed by humans!

So! What is to be done?

While we can’t cure the social or economic inequalities being exacerbated by the advance of technology, we can lay out some helpful approaches to maintaining health and productivity in an ever changing world.

1)    As we rely more and more on smaller and smaller devices with increased technological capacity, it is imperative that we inspect the way we interact with these device form a behavioral perspective. We can’t change the physical environment of every Starbucks or airport waiting area or hotel lobby, but we can certainly be aware of and change the way we use our devices. Hunched posture, double-thumbed texting, and bowed head are all observable behaviors if you walk into any of the aforementioned venues. Make sure to maintain a healthy and balanced sitting posture with your head balance over the plain of your spine when using your tablet or smartphone. And while a stylus may seem to slow you down just a bit when texting or surfing, it will save your thumbs and allow you to hold your device in a more relaxed fashion with the opposite hand. Even if you are afraid to lose your spot, make sure to get up and stretch and get some blood flowing through your veins. Your joints and muscles will thank you.

2)    As your work world becomes more mobile, make it a point to seek out discretionary environments that are more conducive to your comfort and productivity. Simple things like supportive chairs, good lighting and soft acoustics can help improve posture and reduce stress. In addition, whenever and wherever possible, use externals with your mobile devices. A propped up tablet, roll up keyboard or stylus can be of great benefit to you comfort and productivity  over a period of an hour or two.

3)    Economic realities are economic realities! If you find yourself in a position where workforce downsizing has or is occurring, and more responsibility is coming your way, it is quite critical to make sure you arm yourself with the tools to combat fatigue and potential discomfort. Proper diet, exercise and sufficient sleep are elemental to maintaining the necessary productivity to compete in the modern workforce. According to Penn State researchers, people’s satisfaction with life was higher on days when they exercised more than usual. “We found that people’s satisfaction with life was directly impacted by their daily physical activity,” said Jaclyn Maher, graduate student in kinesiology. ” The findings reinforce the idea that physical activity is a health behavior with important consequences for daily well-being and should be considered when developing national policies to enhance satisfaction with life.”

How do you manage your health and wellbeing in today’s changing world?  Please leave us comment and share your pearls of wisdom.

Here’s to your health!

Andrew, PBE Co-founder

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