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An Overview of Organizational Ergonomics

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
By Anne Kramer

The dominant public view of ergonomics focuses only upon the physical domain, and most ergonomic products and services fall into this field. Meanwhile, with the evolution of the automated workplace , the domains of cognitive and organizational ergonomics are gradually gaining importance. Organizational ergonomics, which combines elements of both the physical and cognitive domains, comprises the newest of these fields.

The Focus of Organizational Ergonomics
Also sometimes known as macro-ergonomics, organizational ergonomics focuses on optimizing socio-technical systems and organizing structures, policies and processes in order to maximize efficiency. This domain addresses more subjective aspects of the workplace:

  • Communication
  • Crew resources and management
  • Work schedule design
  • Teamwork
  • Participatory design
  • Cooperative work
  • New work paradigms
  • Quality management
  • Virtual organizations
  • Community ergonomics

Aim of Organizational Ergonomics

The goal of organizational ergonomics is the attainment of a fully harmonized work system that ensures employee job satisfaction and commitment. It also includes the study of technology’s consequences on human relationships, processes, and institutions. Typical interventions are as follows:

  • Including workers in identifying and resolving ergonomic issues. This is also known as participatory ergonomics

  • Improving total system processes, such as manufacturing value streams and managerial processes

  • Successfully installing safety as an integral part of the organizational culture.

The Purpose of the Balance Model

The organizationally ergonomic workplace adheres to the balance model. All systems interact, and any change in one system impacts the other elements. If all elements are not designed to work in confluence, safety, productivity, efficiency, and quality can all suffer. Furthermore, attaining balance realizes cost savings or avoidance. Therefore under the balance model, every effort is made to anticipate and minimize the impact of changes. Factors that tend to impede balance can be individual or organization-wide:

  • A worker lacks the skills or knowledge base to complete tasks effectively and efficiently.
  • Employees disagree with management practices.
  • The organization is harming the environment
  • Outside factors influence the work environment.

The organizational ergonomist will identify and remedy elements or factors that prevent the attainment of balance.

Applications of Organizational Ergonomics

The most widespread application for organizational ergonomics is in the introduction and integration of new technology into the workplace. As companies implement new technologies, they must consider several factors of those tools:

  • Functions
  • Capabilities
  • Capacities
  • User-friendliness
  • Integration

The organizational branch of ergonomics is often overlooked in the workplace because it concentrates on intangible factors. While it may be more difficult to quantify the effects of organizationally ergonomic interventions, employers will reap benefits. These include greater employee satisfaction and higher productivity.




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