FMJ January/February 2017 : Page 38

Taking Care of Comfort

Bill Conley

Being comfortable is a sense of physical or psychological ease, often signified as
a lack of difficulty. However, in facilities, the term “comfort” is used much more broadly, such as by providing enhanced physical comfort to people. For example, a person might sit in a chair without obvious discomfort, but may find that the use of an ergonomic chair will increase their feeling of comfort.

There are various psychological studies about the feeling of comfort, and they have resulted in a few conclusions. The idea of comfort varies among each person; however, there are a few universal themes of comfort that apply to everyone. Most of these fall under physical comfort such as contact comfort, visual comfort, audial comfort and thermal comfort.

Facility managers play a key role in providing for the well-being of employees. Although facility management is a profession of ongoing change, some responsibilities remain constant. Issues and new processes are always appearing on the horizon, making a big splash
and then washing up on the shore: they become outdated or are just integrated into the workflow and taken for granted.

Green building certifications are no longer headline news; the development of disaster recovery plans are now common practices; open-office plans and teaming areas have been installed on many office floorplans.

One constant, though, should be the well-being of facilities’ customers. The comfort and health of employees in the workspace should always be a major focus, not something that has become so commonplace that it is taken for granted. Amidst the shuffle of alternate workplaces and innovative space plans, environmental health and safety should be more than standard operating procedure; it should always be in the forefront of an FM’s consciousness.


The “erg” is a unit of energy and work; thus, ergonomics literally means the “science of work”:
how to enable employees to work better. Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the goal of ergonomics is to “reduce stress and eliminate injuries and disorders associated with the overuse of muscles, bad posture and repeated tasks.” This is accomplished by designing tasks, work spaces, controls, displays, tools, lighting and equipment to fit the employee’s physical capabilities and limitations.

The best ergonomic solutions often improve productivity. By designing employee space to allow
for good posture, less exertion, fewer motions and better heights and reaches, the workstation becomes more efficient. By ensuring that light, noise and other considerations do not have a negative impact on employees, facility managers can assist in maintaining or increasing worker productivity.

In today’s offices, most jobs rely on computer work, leading to a growing potential for computer injuries caused by a lack of ergonomics in the workplace. These ailments can start out as minor irritations but can develop into serious problems, such as repetitive stress injuries. These may be caused by repetitive tasks or sustained and awkward positions, impacting both the individual employees and the business, which must cope with reduced productivity.

Problems like this can be mitigated by implementing proper ergonomics. By systematically reducing ergonomic risk factors, facility managers can prevent costly musculoskeletal injuries. With approximately US$1 out of every US$3 in workers’ compensation costs attributed to musculoskeletal disorders, this represents an opportunity for significant cost savings. Indirect costs can be up to 20 times the direct cost of such an injury, as absence equals downtime.

Poor ergonomics leads to frustrated and fatigued
workers that don’t do their best work. When job tasks
are too physically strenuous on workers, they may not perform their jobs as they should. Discomfort due to
long periods of office work can be prevented by regular postural change. Posture is driven by where an employee’s hands go and where their eyes take them. Thus, one
of the considerations of ergonomics is the placement
of tools and devices, and the ability of employees to
use them efficiently. Research suggests that knowledge about the importance of postural change is not enough. The combination of ergonomic furniture and other applications designed to allow workers to change from seated positions to standing positions was found to produce a dramatic reduction in discomfort.

As time has passed and knowledge about how the workplace affects individuals has evolved, the concept of ergonomics has shifted. Where once it was focused on the right seating, placement of the monitor, where
a phone sat on a desk or how high a chair was, it now also includes how lighting, air quality and noise affect workers. In fact, ergonomics now seems to encompass many of the aspects that used to be under the umbrella of overall environmental ambience. It has become more of an interdisciplinary field that focuses on the interplay between individuals and their surroundings.

Ergonomic analysis is a direct study of the relationship between an environment and how that environment affects its inhabitants. Specific aspects of this process work by identifying a problem and discovering a solution. One important aspect of a problem-oriented field is that by identifying problems, solutions arise from the research acquired. The solutions can aid in making the facility function better as a whole and create a wealth of knowledge about the inner workings of employee needs.

The field is value-oriented because of its commitment to bettering the workplace through problem identification. This entails focusing on the importance of not only understanding the problem but also the necessity to fix it. Therefore, it is necessary for ergonomic considerations to be problem-oriented. The challenges and resultant resolutions identified by facility managers affect all of their customers, as they pertain to the comfort and well-being of employees.


Facility managers can take steps to ensure proper ergonomics in the workplace. Holding to the tenet
of managing by walking around, the FM can review employee tasks for risk factors. Observation and investigation allow FMs to be aware of work processes and the safety needs involved and be proactive in defining challenges. When identifying the likely risk factors in an operation, developing a safer work environment can be enabled by changing deleterious practices and reduce how workers are exposed to possible injury. This will necessitate understanding how to make the workspace function ergonomically. FMs must be conversant with work station design principles and the correct tools to affect employee comfort.


By paying attention to their customers’ needs, facility managers can help improve health-related quality of life. This is a multi-dimensional concept that includes domains related to physical, mental, emotional and social health. Human/environment interaction is an overarching theme in the study of work that concerns the many relationships, both positive and negative, between people and their environment. This includes how people depend on and modify the environment and how they adapt behaviorally and physically in response to their surroundings.

By applying the results of ergonomic analysis to their work environments, companies can experience a ripple effect of the benefits. If an employee does not experience fatigue and discomfort during their workday, it can decrease absenteeism, improve morale and increase employee involvement. The U.S. National Business Group on Health recently found that employers that have health and productivity programs can reduce disability days between 10 to 35 percent, improve return to work rates by at least 6 percent and experience a return on investment ranging from 3:1 to 15:1.

When a company takes a proactive approach to employee safety and well-being, employees take notice of this positive stance on their wellness. They report higher levels of job satisfaction and show higher commitment levels. Employees’ positive reaction to this demonstrated care for their health yields a variety of benefits, such as decreased turnover rates, better work quality coupled with improved output and employee engagement. When employees are more committed to a company, they
are more productive and even display more initiative
and effort in the tasks performed. Because of higher employee engagement, satisfaction and productivity,
the company showcases its corporate social responsibility, which could attract investors and high-quality job applicants.

Improvements in lighting, temperature, cubicle and desk arrangements, and bathroom and kitchen cleanliness can make working in the office more comfortable. Discomfort is a distraction that takes away from productivity and overall job satisfaction over time.

Creating a workplace atmosphere that is secure, clean and comfortable demonstrates basic respect for the people and the company. Activity and healthy diets improve creativity and productivity. Supporting nutrition, fitness and stress relief in your employees contributes to a higher-quality workplace environment. Putting motivational signs around elevator banks might encourage people to walk to different floors for meetings. Removing junk food from vending machines and serving healthier fresh foods may be something an FM can do to support better eating habits. The company could bring in nutrition experts to present at brown-bag lunches. The facility manager, as a company leader, could arrange for the occasional wellness day in the facility. Having a massage therapist, chiropractor or yoga instructor come to the facility would bring extra added value to the workplace and employees’ quality of life.


Paying attention to employee needs and implementing a holistic ergonomics/health and safety program shows a company’s commitment to all personnel by creating a positive atmosphere for them. Such policies improve employee engagement, as it is noticed when the company is putting forth their best efforts to ensure a healthy workplace.

Ergonomics creates a better safety culture. It shows a company’s commitment to its employees as a core value and leads to the cumulative effect of such a program being viewed as a caring organizational culture. Healthy employees are a company’s most valuable asset. Creating and fostering safety and health initiatives in the workplace will lead to better human performance for the organization.

Job stress is an all-too-common problem for many employees. In most cases of job stress, the origin is either the actual work environment or the interactions within the workplace. It is important to understand that job stress affects individuals differently and therefore must be prevented with methods that will be helpful to everyone.

The physical conditions of the workplace and the environment in which people work can heavily influence their overall mental state. If there are too many workers in an area, if it is extremely noisy or
if the air is dirty or polluted, then work will suffer. Ensuring that workplaces are free of distractions and that ergonomics issues are addressed could lead to present value benefits of US$37 to US$55 per square foot resulting from productivity gains from less sick time and greater worker productivity. These gains are directly attributed to better ventilation, lighting quality, ergonomic improvements and the general ambiance of the work environment.

People trained in ergonomics, especially facility managers, must apply their knowledge of worker habits and needs to the bigger picture. Look beyond the mousepad and footrest and consider how the overall condition and aspects of the workplace affect the personnel working there.

Whether it’s to improve the health, welfare and quality of life for those in the facility, or to increase productivity and provide the organization with greater success (or both), these professionals have the solution to the problem of discomfort and dissatisfaction within their purview. It may be another case of short-term cost leading to long-term success, but of anyone out there, facility managers are the most comfortable in making this work.

BILL CONLEY, CFM, SFP, FMP, LEED AP, IFMA Fellow, is facility manager at Yamaha Motor Corp. in Cypress, California, USA. Prior to that, he served as owner and chief sustainability officer of CFM2, a facility management and sustainability consulting company. Conley has more than 40 years of experience in the facility management profession and has been a proponent of sustainable operations for more than 20 years.

Conley has served on the IFMA board of directors, is a recipient of IFMA’s distinguished member of the year award and has received the association’s distinguished author award three times. He has been a regular contributor to FMJ for more than 20 years and has authored more than 50 FMJ articles.

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