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Why do most companies have no special policies for improving productivity on their workplaces, especially in terms of ergonomics?

Such improvements are fairly measurable and the return of investment is long-term. Yet most companies would not care to make simple workplace re-arrangements, purchase ergonomic chairs, control noise (!) in the office, etc. Computer lessons into more productive work with desktop applications for secretaries, for instance, could also bring noticeable improvements in speed of work, yet it is hardly common practice. Let alone a company investing in R&D of ergonomic equipment or something like that. At the same time companies always find money to spend on team buildings/ show-off events/ etc.

  • It is hard to estimate the ROI of "better" chairs. It is hard to estimate the ROI of show-off events, too, but which is better is a matter of opinion, and the opinion of your superiors is different from yours. Don't get me wrong - I'm with you on this. I invest on my staff first (they got air coditioning in their rooms before I got it in mine, I'm always bringing in pleasantries like those balls you can squeeze to strengthen your hand and avoid carpal, they do have very good chairs etc.). But it's all about opinion, and the opinion of the higher ups is the one that is implemented. – user10483 Oct 25 '13 at 12:49
  • Clearly it is the opinion of the higher up one that is implemented, the question is why does the opinion of the "highers" tend to never to gravitate in favour of productivity investments. – drabsv Oct 25 '13 at 12:53
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    Because the people who make these decisions don't care about such equipment themselves. It's sad, but most people (and I include myself) cannot properly put themselves in others' shoes. If you want to encourage them, you will probably have to point to legislation, e.g. hse.gov.uk/msd/dse/guidance.htm – paj28 Oct 25 '13 at 14:45
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    I think that most people who could leverage productivity training are already driven to find or figure out the kinds of things you're talking about on their own. – Amy Blankenship Oct 25 '13 at 17:56
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    If you're genuinely motivated to increase your productivity, you'll get on the internet and figure out how to smooth over those time-wasting pain points. If you're not, no amount of training will provide you with that motivation. Without the motivation, most people won't apply the training unless you find a way to align it with something else they're motivated to do (if you process 3 extra forms a day you'll get an extra $x/day in pay for instance). – Amy Blankenship Oct 25 '13 at 21:09
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Why do most companies have no special policies for improving productivity on their workplaces, especially in terms of ergonomics?

I'm not sure about the term 'most' here. Some companies invest in productivity improvements and ergonomics, and others not as much. It's always a matter of degree.

The pressure on management for many companies to show annual or quarterly improvements often skews action resulting in more immediate, rather than longer-term payback. Particularly for public companies, the pressure is high to show quarterly results.

At budget time, many managers have to choose a mix of shorter term expenses versus longer term. It's tempting to decide to invest less in faster computers at the expense of more computers, or to purchase less expensive chairs and instead spend it on software that might avoid having to hire additional accountants, for example.

Most of the time, the ROI isn't at all clear cut. For example, it isn't clear how much benefit the company will gain from spending twice as much on chairs. And how much more productivity is gained by faster computers? Unless the current computers are so slow that people cannot get their jobs done, speeding them up might provide little to no benefit.

At my company, if our computer dies, it is replaced with a new computer from inventory. That has happened to me twice over the last 5 years. The newer computers are much faster - but there is zero difference in my work. I get exactly the same amount of work done with the new computers as I did with the old. I can easily conclude that it would make no sense at all to spend any money on upgrading my computers unless needed for some reason other than productivity. The same reasoning applies to most (but not all) of the computers in my division.

And when the budget is tight, it makes sense to focus on the short-term. If you cannot get through the short-term, then the long-term is irrelevant. (A smart person once told me "in the long term we're all gone anyway")

The companies that handle things well invest in both the long term and the short term in amounts relative to the needs of the employees as well as their external stakeholders and the markets. Some do this better than others.

  • When the budget is high, your point is understandable, but what about the companies whose budgets are lavish and still would not invest into productivity tools? The ROI of fancy employer branding spending, for example, is many times and over, more obscure than the ROI of productivity investments, so I cannot see how ROI calculation could be the bottom of the issue. – drabsv Oct 25 '13 at 14:19
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Ok, here's the reality.

Most company policy doesn't value the "how does this policy enable individual contributors in their daily work?" perspective very highly. It's normally driven by managers or managers of managers and them wanting to control processes, standardize, or otherwise make things easy to manage.

The drawback is this causes more work or more painful work for individual contributors while satisfying some large macro goal which oftentimes feels like "screw individual contributors or how this effects them, they will figure out a way."

Why am I saying all this? What it boils down to is what you are describing is the "how can individual contributors work best - we should make policy based on this" perspective. This is unfortunately NOT how many companies manage, instead it's a "how would managers like to manage - we should make policy based on this." Which is why you might have to fight tooth and nail to get a nice keyboard or another monitor but your boss has a teambuilding event paid for once a month. Etc.

This all results in the goal for more effective individual contributors not being a primary goal for many managers.

Keep in mind I don't think this is the RIGHT approach to management, but rather the most common...

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