ERIE — Tough times or not, Nick McElhiney believes that more employers are paying attention to the well-being of their employees.
That’s why, even in a depressed economy, he recently launched Ergo-nomic Evolution, an Erie-based consulting company.
Business has been slow so far — “A lot of businesses are more in ‘survive’ mode than ‘improve’ mode,” he said — but McElhiney believes more companies are catching on to the benefits of ergonomics, from both an employee-happiness standpoint and, especially, an economic standpoint.
It is a burgeoning industry. More than 10,000 companies from around the world are expected at the 15th annual ErgoExpo in November in Las Vegas.
Ergonomics — “an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely,” according to Merriam-Webster — is a relatively new concept in the United States, McElhiney said, but more employers are seeing benefits beyond just reducing workers’ compensation claims.
“There’s also the psychiatric aspect of ergonomics, something that many American companies don’t understand,” McElhiney said. “If you’ve done business with a Japanese or a European business, it’s really ingrained in their culture.”
McElhiney previously worked as a salesman for an office furniture company, where he began to “dabble” in ergonomic workplace evaluations. The past couple of years, he has done more than 200 of them, making suggestions to businesses on how to improve the environment in their workplaces — including lighting, room temperature and, of course, furniture.
He often discovered that “ergonomics was being used incorrectly.”
During evaluations, he said, he often heard that the chairs were ergonomic.
“Well, no, it’s not,” he would reply, “not if you don’t know how to use it or how to adjust it. Then it’s about as good as a park bench.”
When the furniture company folded earlier this year, McElhiney decided to go into ergonomics consulting full time. He still brokers furniture and accessories for companies, if they need them, but new equipment isn’t always a necessity.
“Eighty percent of the time, I’m trying to show people how to use the equipment they have properly,” he said.
McElhiney launched Ergonomic Evolution with his own money in March, building a Web site and designing the marketing materials himself.
He offers varying levels of service, from a basic evaluation of a workplace or workstation to 90-minute ergonomic training classes for groups. He also sells equipment, such as keyboard trays and height-adjustable desks and chairs.
His philosophy differs from those of many of his competitors because he takes many of his ideas from Europe, where ergonomics has been a way of life for generations, he said.
American companies, McElhiney said, still have a lot to learn.
“Ergonomics has only been around for about 30 years, so it’s an evolving industry,” he said. “Some old rules don’t work anymore.”