The Lowdown on Bottom-Line Ergonomics

Feb 12, 2008 10:28 PM  By

At almost every seminar I teach or attend I get asked, “How can I justify investing in the agents’ work space?” When I was managing contact centers, this was a very “iffy” situation. But the field of ergonomics has since blossomed, and the return on investment has been significantly substantiated.

Investing in ergonomics is critical. Employers now spend billions of dollars on workers’ compensation claims associated with musculoskeletal disorders, and hundreds of thousands of workers each year suffer from these disorders. Repeated trauma accounts for 62% of all work-related illnesses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Studies have proven that employers can reduce these costs and injuries and thereby improve employee health, morale, and productivity as well as increase customer satisfaction. And efforts needn’t involve costly or complicated processes or controls. Most employers can achieve results through a variety of simple, flexible approaches.

Ergonomics, also known as “human factors,” is the science of adjusting the workplace to the worker. While it has been helpful in cutting absenteeism, reducing on-the-job injuries, and minimizing turnover, no single solution is right for everyone. Workers and employers must develop a long-term partnership to improve contact center ergonomics. It’s an ongoing effort, not a quick fix.

There are an estimated 3 million front-line agents working in contact centers in the U.S. Keep in mind that:

• Most of these agents spend four hours each day making up to 100,000 keystrokes on the computer keyboard.

• A 1% error rate (due to poor posture, lighting, or noise) on a person typing 33 words-per-minute translates to 100 errors per hour or 84,000 errors per year. (Think about the downstream effect of these mistakes to your business.)

• An estimated 85% of the agents in a contact center have keying skills below the minimum standard.

• Regardless of ergonomic furniture and accessories, safe office ergonomics are virtually impossible without correct keying skills.

• Incorrect keyboard use, such as the “hunt and peck” or self-taught keying methods, can lead to low productivity, errors, and fatigue to the wrists, arms, eyes and neck.

Most companies are looking for new ways to make their overall output more cost effective. Since labor costs are a major component of most contact center expenses, improving agent productivity has become a battle cry of management.

You can do this by changing business processes, improving user “tools,” and increasing employee job satisfaction. Few people would disagree with the statement that happy employees who have the right tools to perform their job have the highest productivity.

Ergonomics undoubtedly contributes to contact center productivity. Next time, we’ll look at how to determine if your agents are at ergonomic risk.

Kathryn E. Jackson, Ph.D is president of Ocean City, NJ-based contact center consultancy Response Design Corp. www.responsedesign.com