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Enhancing Mental Performance through Cognitive Ergonomics

06 February 2023

Gone are the days when industrial processes were heavily dependent on physical function. Today, performing tasks at work is more about mental processes and cognitive functions that involve processing information and making decisions. Moreover, several factors influence cognitive function in the workplace. These are interruptions at work, information overload, or the need to multitask. Thus, modern work life is all about knowledge and information work by nature which is why cognitive strain is a notable psychosocial risk factor at work.

Not only are the tasks more mentally demanding, but the workspace conditions characterized by interruptions and multitasking are making it more demanding for humans to perform efficiently. Due to these workspace conditions, cognitive ergonomics is becoming increasingly popular at the workplace to enhance the mental performance of employees. In what follows, we look at what cognitive ergonomics is and how it can help enhance the mental performance of employees at work.



Cognitive Ergonomics – Overview

Ergonomics, by definition, is the study of the efficiency of employees in a workplace setting. There are three domains of ergonomics; physical, cognitive, and organizational. While the physical domain of ergonomics is most widely known, cognitive ergonomics is becoming increasingly significant in a workplace setting.

According to research, cognitive factors such as stress can challenge an employee's safety, well-being, and productivity at work. Moreover, workplace conditions such as information overload and interruptions can lead to higher stress levels, significantly increasing the risk of accidents, errors, and cognitive failure at the workplace. Therefore, to decrease the negative implications of psychological risks at the workplace, there is a need for introducing cognitive ergonomics, which can play a significant role in decreasing the harmful consequences of cognitive stress.

Cognitive ergonomics in its purest essence is the ergonomics of mental processes, which aims at creating a balance between the cognitive abilities of humans and the limitations at the workplace. Cognitive ergonomics aims at analyzing the following areas of the work environment.

Mental workload,

Performance,

Human interaction with the machine, including computers,

Work-related stress,

Training received to handle equipment at work and

Human reliability.



Cognitive Ergonomics – Improving Mental Performance and Workflow

There is a heavy reliance on digitalization in today's modern work environment. The performance of work-related tasks is heavily dependent on cognitive function, i.e., mental processes. These mental processes involve information processing, such as paying attention, learning and memorizing, and making decisions. While these demands exist in almost all types of workspaces, they are more notable in tertiary industries, service-based sectors, and knowledge-work jobs that require working with abstract knowledge. This type of working environment constantly requires acquiring, creating, and applying knowledge. These mental processes can lead to cognitive load as there is a persistent demand for work tasks. Over time, when the demands exceed the natural ability of the human mind to process information, it can lead to cognitive strain.

Moreover, the mental strain can also be further increased due to the working conditions. Apart from the strain on mental abilities due to the constant need for learning and knowledge application, several working conditions can strain cognitive function. These working conditions often include disruptions and interruptions while working and the need to multitask at work. Furthermore, information overload, which is also a common experience in modern workplaces, also serves as a straining feature that hampers the cognitive ability of humans to perform at an optimal level.

Cognitive strain related to the constant need for processing and applying information and strains due to the work environment is one of the leading factors that affect employee performance at work. Since both the constant need for mental processing and the working conditions directly affect the human ability to master mentally demanding tasks, together they hinder task performance. Moreover, not only do mentally straining working conditions affect task performance but they also reflect in negative overall performance. Therefore, it is essential to manage workspace processes and conditions that can have negative consequences on employees, teams, and organizations, and that's the ultimate goal of cognitive ergonomics.

Cognitive ergonomics aims at improving performance at work while reducing the risk of human error. As digitization and automation become the new normal at the workplace, there is an ever-increasing need for developing user-friendly systems. Since automation and digitalization increase the operators' decision-making, there is a higher risk of errors and accidents, which is why there is a lot of emphasis on both the safety and quality of the equipment designed and developed for modern workplaces.

However, how cognitive ergonomics is applied to the workplace varies with industries and the needs of the workplace. Some of the practical applications of cognitive ergonomics to improve workflow are highlighted below.



Improving Work Flow Through Cognitive Ergonomics

User-Friendly Design of Automated Systems and Software Interfaces

One of the most significant applications of cognitive ergonomics to improve workflow is the design of user-friendly automation systems and software interfaces. Since workplaces are increasingly becoming digitalized, the implementation of user-friendly interfaces and automation systems can greatly reduce mental stress and the risk of errors which will help improve productivity at an individual and organizational level.

Workload Management to Manage Cognitive Load

While cognitive ergonomics is about making workplace conditions more favorable, it also encompasses managing each employee's workload. When there is an excessive workload on employees, it can lead to cognitive load and stress, which eventually affects their productivity while increasing the risk of errors that can be costly for the employees and the organization.

A better practical approach would be to manage the cognitive load of the employees, so there is lesser cognitive load and associated stress. When an employee feels relaxed and believes that the situation is under control, it aids in freeing up mental space, which enhances workplace performance.

Improved Layout of Working Environment

As mentioned earlier, workplace conditions also play an integral role in causing mental stress, affecting performance. Workplace conditions such as interruptions, distractions, and information overload can be managed by improving the layout of the working conditions. By improving the layout of the working environment, you can significantly reduce the risk of errors and potential accidents. Some of the practical ways of improving the layout of the working environment are.

Making Controls Consistent

One of the best approaches to improve the layout of the workspace is to make control consistent. The solution may be more practical for manufacturing industries, but it will make it easier for employees to react in case of an emergency. Hence making controls consistent can aid in reducing cognitive load as well as reduce the risk of errors during the production process.

Use of appropriate lighting

Another practical way of improving the workspace layout and conditions is to use appropriate lighting. The use of appropriate lighting aids in reducing glare which is one of the possible reasons for reading errors. Moreover, lighting also affects the mood of the employees, which is why it is integral to use appropriate lighting in every workspace setting. In workplaces where it is possible to capitalize on natural light, the use of large windows that allow plenty of sunlight is a great way to boost the productivity of your employees.

Opening Up Work Space

Congested and cramped workspaces also lead to workplace stress for employees, so we recommend opening up workspaces. A more open workspace will help reduce workplace stress for employees which will boost their productivity and reduce the risk of errors resulting from the cognitive load.

Investment in the Right Type of Office Furniture

Regardless of the type of business, it is integral to invest in the right type of ergonomic furniture because you cannot separate the physical and cognitive aspects of ergonomics. When a person is sitting in an uncomfortable chair, it can lead to cognitive stress, which eventually affects performance, so investing in ergonomic office furniture is important.

Make sure that you improve the layout of your workspace by making it more ergonomic friendly by investing in ergonomic office furniture such as office chairs. Moreover, it is also integral to invest in height-adjustable standing desks as prolonged sitting can also lead to cognitive stress. The L-shaped standing desk E4L makes one of the most reliable height-adjustable standing desks that can be a perfect addition to any workspace.

Reduce the Noise in the System

Last on the list of improving layout for managing workflow is noise reduction. And while it may be last on the list, it is extremely important to suppress surrounding noise so there are fewer disruptions and interruptions in the workplace setting, which will aid in reducing cognitive load.

Final Words

As workplaces evolve and become increasingly dependent on automation, it doesn't reduce the significance of the human element. Increasingly automation is taking a toll on the mental load, so cognitive ergonomics is becoming increasingly more significant in a workplace setting and will continue to be an integral force that will aid in managing mental performance at work.