White Paper: Enhancing the Performance of Aging Employees in the Office Environment

June 18, 2007

Author: Blake McGowan, CPE

Published in: Humantech’s ergoAccelerator™

Issue: June 2007

As we age, we undergo a number of physiological changes, including cognitive, auditory, visual, and muscular, that may affect our performance on the job. While all four types of changes may influence our work to some degree, the visual and muscular changes are key in an office environment, given the amount of time many of us spend using computers.

Visual changes include the following:

  • Visual acuity (ability to resolve detail) decreases.
  • Optimal focal point moves further away.
  • Visual discrimination between shorter wavelength light decreases.
  • Contrast detection decreases.
  • Visual adaptation to darker conditions decreases.
  • Susceptibility to glare increases.
  • More illumination is required to see adequately.
  • Useful field of view is reduced.

 

And muscular changes include the following:

  • Hand movement speed and control decrease.
  • Finger and wrist strength decrease.
  • Force control decreases.

According to Blake McGowan, Senior Consultant for Humantech, there are several simple improvements that address these changes directly, which can help aging office employees maintain performance levels.

Visual

  • Increase monitor brightness.
  • Increase monitor contrast.
  • Increase screen zoom in software applications such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
  • Use 12-point font or larger.
  • Use 17" monitors or larger, if possible.
  • Avoid using small laptop screens; connect your laptop to an external monitor.
  • Place document holders and monitors at the same distance from the eyes to minimize the need to focus at different distances.
  • Increase illumination in all work areas.
  • Maintain consistent light levels at the workstation and throughout the entire work environment.
  • Provide ambient (diffused) light sources and avoid direct light sources.
  • Avoid shiny or stainless steel office equipment (lights, staplers, monitor stands, etc).
  • Locate monitor at least an arm's length away.
  • Locate monitor directly in front of the keyboard.
  • Locate important information or equipment closer to the keyboard or monitor.
  • Replace traditional CRT monitors with LCD technology.

Muscular

  • Choose a mouse that places the forearm in a neutral position, rather than a pronated posture, to optimize strength capabilities and endurance.
  • Optimize force requirements of the mouse buttons, making sure the buttons are not overly sensitive to touch.
  • Reduce double-click speed of the mouse.
  • Change software folder options to open using a single click, rather than a double click.
  • Use more keyboard shortcuts to reduce mouse use.
  • Provide extra texture or tactile feedback on mouse and keyboard surfaces.
  • Use area cursors or "sticky icons" to increase the icon point of activation.
  • Increase icon sizes.
  • Use a keyboard with larger keys.
  • Use large print keyboards.

About the Humantech and the Author

Blake McGowan, CPE, is an ergonomics engineer and Senior Consultant for Humantech. Since 1979, Humantech has accelerated workplace improvements to enable people to perform at their best. Humantech provides vital workplace solutions through Human Performance Ergonomics™, employee engagement, task-specific problem-solving, training programs, and extraordinary service. The results are operational excellence, increased profitability and improved worker morale, as well as reduced workplace injuries and costs related to inefficiencies. With a corporate office in Michigan and consultants across the country, Humantech consults with successful companies worldwide. For more information, visit humantech.com

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