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The Uncomfortable Truth

Underestimating the importance of comfort in the workplace

And Then There Was One
This isn't going to be long post. Not because I don't have a lot to say on this subject, but because I'm uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable discussing this, just plain old uncomfortable.

You see, back when I was younger (and smarter ... and had hair) I was pretty much indestructible (as most of us are). I rarely suffered much for my encounters with gravity or velocity, though I did learn a lesson or two along the way. Newsflash: I'm not younger (or smarter) anymore.

About a month ago, while impersonating a human pack mule, I forgot about the things I'm not anymore. That was the moment one of my knees decided it wanted to take a few months off. And you know what? It got what it wanted ... and I learned another lesson.

It's funny how things we take for granted throw us off when we don't do them like we normally do. Sitting at a desk, getting in and out of a chair or a car, or even just walking can become laborious when something is off. Muscle memory is a powerful thing, and when we move in ways we don't normally move, we feel it. Not just while we're doing it, but for days afterward.

Walking with a knee brace and my cane I resemble a half duck, half penguin much more than a curmudgeonly version of Charlie Chaplin's The Tramp. My body constantly reminds me that this is not the Loco-Motion that "everybody's doing". With apologies to the old English proverb, where there's a will, there's a waddle.

Uncomfortably Dumb
Keeping my leg elevated while trying to work has been very uncomfortable. It's unnatural, unpleasant and continuously distracting. The end result is that I am woefully unproductive, even after a month of trying to adapt to it.

"All in all, what I thought was going to be a reason to order more takeout has turned into a physical and psychological obstacle keeping me from getting started,"

Getting in and out of my desk chair has been problematic as well (I've never been accused of being graceful). This discourages me from even making the effort to work at times. All in all, what I thought was going to be a reason to order more takeout has turned into a physical and psychological obstacle keeping me from getting started, which has completely disrupted my productivity. To borrow from Pink Floyd, I have become uncomfortably dumb.

Thankfully my situation is only temporary, even if the increasing backlog of work seems insurmountable (I'll need to take my own advice to make a dent in it). But there are many people who work with the constant distractions of physical discomfort or awkward working conditions on a regular basis. And just like me, their work and morale suffers for it.

Less of a Bad Thing
Unsurprisingly, comfort matters (I'm living, complaining proof of that) and it directly affects your company's productivity. I'm not suggesting that you should provide your staff with a luxurious work environment, that includes big cushy chairs and attendants to cater their every whim. Just reasonably comfortable surroundings, because comfort improves morale. Dead horse alert: morale impacts productivity and employee turnover. Whether it's someone who quits because they found a better work environment or an employee you terminate because their production wasn't up to par. Either scenario results in additional hiring and training costs that could have been avoided.

It may be something as simple as an uncomfortable chair or needing a lumbar support or footrest. It may be a workspace that is too small, too close to their neighbors or has no sense of privacy or personal space. Or it may be the all too common temperature in the office (something I've written about before).

When considering all of this I strongly suggest you think about yourself too. Your comfort affects your morale, which sets tone for the rest of your staff. Mood and morale start at the top, so if you are unhappy your staff will be unhappy. If that's the case I suggest re-reading this block while substituting "your emotions" for "comfort".

Almost all workplaces employ someone who needs a minor accommodation. It could be a klutz like me, or someone recovering from an accident or medical procedure, who needs a short term consideration. Or someone with a bad back or bad eyesight who needs a more permanent solution. Many companies employ someone with a physical disability who requires extra consideration to accommodate their specific needs. Ensuring that all of these individuals have the environment and tools they need to do their jobs is an important sign of respect and support. This sends a signal to your entire staff, not just the employee(s) you are accommodating.

Trying to accommodate every employee's needs isn't always easy, and it's never going to be free. But it's important, and it's worth the effort. Think of it as an investment in your staff, like training (but something they actually appreciate).

We can't all work in vibrating recliners with a personal assistant waiting on us hand and foot. But we can make sure that we provide a comfortable work environment for our staff and for ourselves. Go the extra mile, because one day it may be you who needs special consideration ... even if it's just a place to hang your cane for a couple of months.

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