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Featuring: Safco Active's Locus, Confluence Mobis, Pivot mogo Mobis, Twixt EHAT & Energy Swivel

Ergonomist Josh Kerst on Ergonomics and Wellbeing 2.0

What are the keys to creating a truly effective, user-friendly workplace? How should office seating and other office items be designed to achieve that kind of environment?

For close to 30 years, Josh Kerst, principal ergonomist for Safco Products, thought he had the answers to those questions. As a Certified Professional Ergonomist with a degree in industrial engineering, he was steeped in both the theory and hands-on practice of workplace ergonomics.

Years of research told Josh and his colleagues that user-friendly design was all about comfort and adjustability, but that conventional wisdom isn’t sufficient today. New insight has shed perspective on the matter.

Kerst now points to recent discoveries that suggest design elements which provide too much comfort can trigger unintended and unfortunate consequences, including serious health issues and lowered productivity.

At WPF’s 2017 National Conference, Kerst will present an in-depth look at the latest ergonomic research and examine the key elements of a concept he calls Ergonomics and Wellbeing 2.0.

In the following interview, Kerst offers a preview of what conference attendees can expect to hear from him in San Antonio. It’s an interesting read, but don’t get too comfortable before you start.

Ergonomics is hardly a new concept in the office furniture business. What’s the big deal about Ergonomics and Wellbeing 2.0? Is it really any different from what we’ve always understood about ergonomics or is it just another smart marketing ploy?

Kerst: It’s a very different approach. For most of my career as an ergonomist, our whole goal was to eliminate discomfort in the workplace. To a very large extent we achieved that goal but unfortunately, we made people so comfortable that they never moved.

Today, ergonomists know that a solely “comfort” approach has just the opposite effect from what we were trying to achieve.

We now know that inactivity and sedentary behavior in the workplace also come with myriad risks and health challenges—heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and higher mortality rates. Inactivity may also result in reduced brain function and lower productivity.

As the current catch phrase says, “Sitting is the new smoking,” and if all we do as ergonomists is focus on comfort, we’re contributing to the problem, not solving it.

How did you personally come to realize the importance of a new approach to a user-friendly working environment?

Kerst: Back in the day, I was the head of an ergonomics consulting firm and worked with about 30 of the world’s top ergonomists. Every day, I would cycle to the office, spend the day in my ergonomically-designed chair and then cycle back home.

I was getting plenty of exercise but I was losing the health and fitness battle, pushing 210 pounds and walking around with a 40-inch waist!

With all the cycling and an ergonomically-correct work environment designed by experts, I just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t in better shape.

Fortunately for me, I was introduced to a new way of working. It was just as comfortable as what I was used to, but it put me on the path toward a healthier and more productive me. What made the difference was a new posture.

This new posture resided halfway between sitting and standing and involved a lot more perching and leaning. It was a whole lot healthier, and produced some unexpected positive results. Today, I weigh in at 183 pounds and my waist is down to 34 inches.

How did all that happen? The key to the process is a concept that we call NEAT. NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis and while that sounds very complicated and scientific, the concept is relatively simple: this new generation of seating—perch seating—encourages little micro-movements, such as rocking side-to-side and moving forward and back, which burn calories and ultimately deliver healthier results.

The vast majority of information workers today, workers who spend most of their workday at a desk, don’t have time to spend on a daily 45-minute workout. With perch seating, they don’t have to. Instead, they get wellness while they work, and that’s a huge plus.

What are the implications of Ergonomics and Wellbeing 2.0 for dealers and for WPF members in particular?

Kerst: Dealers are always looking for new reasons to approach clients. Ergonomics and Wellbeing 2.0 provides plenty of opportunity to do just that.

And once you start talking with your clients about these new perch-seating products, you’ll find any number of additional items to bring in to the conversation—foot rails, lighting, storage and so on.

The second important aspect of Ergonomics and Wellbeing 2.0 for dealers is that it gives them an important new tool for their toolbox.

With the advent of semi-standing or stand-assist seating, you now have the opportunity to go back to every single customer that has previously bought a sit-to-stand desk from you and show them a way to get better use from it.

The sad fact about sit-to-stand desks is that after the initial 4-6 weeks, only one in five people end up using the standing function on any regular basis. It’s just too uncomfortable.

If you’re responsible for running an office, how would you feel if you’ve spent extra money on something that 80% of your people aren’t using? How would you like to increase the use of that product to 50% or 60% utilization?

Dealers can also leverage semi-standing or stand-assist seating to help their customers do more with less. Perch seating takes up less space than traditional seating. Typically, we see a 25% reduction in space consumption and that’s something any customer will appreciate.

It’s an approach that also provides greater flexibility when it comes to managing the workspace. We all know that Friday occupancy is not the same as Tuesday or Wednesday occupancy. Perch seating options make it easier to create flexible solutions that can better adjust to changing needs.

Finally, there’s the challenge of attracting and retaining top talent, which is critical for just about all of the dealers’ current customers and prospects, as well as the wellness programs that are increasingly common among organizations of all types and sizes. Perch seating can make an important contribution to initiatives in both of these areas

You’ll be speaking at WPF’s Annual Conference in April. What can attendees expect from your presentation and do you have any parting words for WPF dealers in general?

Kerst: My message at the conference for dealers and in general is this: If you embrace Ergonomics and Wellbeing 2.0, it will give you a way to truly stand out from the competition and open the door to a whole new kind of dialog with customers and prospects. It will not only help your clients be healthier, but also improve the top and bottom line of your dealership.

To learn more about Ergonomics and Wellbeing 2.0, register for Josh Kerst’s presentation at the 2017 WPF National Conference, April 2-5 in San Antonio. For more information, visit www.workplacefurn.com/agenda. For more information on Safco, visit www.safcoproducts.com.


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