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<p>SEATTLE – Despite its sleeping status, ergonomics may once again become the hot topic and could present credit unions with a unique opportunity to lead rather than be dragged. “My rationale is that you do what is right for your staff and members and the return to the investment will be high productivity over and over again,” said Paul Seibert, principal of strategic facility planning firm Emick, Howard & Seibert, Inc. “We know the future holds some form of ergonomic legislation that will require compliance, and the long-term benefits of implementing your own ergonomic standards program can be substantial in terms of improving productivity, retaining staff; developing high member satisfaction and participation; increasing profitability and growth; meeting expectations and even reducing long-term operating costs.” Seibert has written a white paper on the subject in Ergonomics and Productivity in Financial Institutions. Research shows that with poor ergonomic planning and a poorly designed retail environment financial institutions are losing a minimum 10%-15% of productivity. “That may not sound like much, but multiply 10% by your sales goals or new membership goals and you will see what kind of real numbers we are talking about,” said Seibert. With Congress repealing the Clinton Administration ergonomics rule (which credit union trade associations opposed) when President George W. Bush took office in 2001, several states have decided to develop their own legislation, which in many cases is similar to the one under the Clinton Administration with specific requirements. According to Seibert for those credit unions operating in multiple states it presents a quandary of what to do? The first step says Seibert is to do an appraisal, but it should be conducted within a larger initiative such as a branch audit that includes ergonomics or a productivity audit to increase service and sales. “The reality is that you don’t want to alarm the staff by only conducting an ergonomics audit because studies have confirmed that word will spread from branch to branch and people will start complaining of sudden chronic ailments or problems, which can leave the credit union exposed to lawsuits, etc,” said Seibert. “So the best way to do it is to make it a component of another audit such as security planning or cross-selling.” Many delivery objectives employ common delivery methods which use similar physical delivery systems-staff-to-member which includes a stand-up teller counter, greeter/concierge station, conference rooms, coin counters, workstations and lobby ATMs; equipment-enhanced staff-to-member, which encompasses drive-through windows, remote teller systems and call centers; and equipment-to-member which can range from a caf/waiting area and tech center to a kiosk, lobby cash dispenser, or night depository. Seibert says there is a simple linked reasoning for incorporating good ergonomic planning into facility design and it boils down to comfort at all levels. “If you make staff more comfortable in their work, they will be more productive, create better relationships with members, and sell more products and services,” said Seibert. “If members are made more comfortable at every contact point within a branch they will develop a good impression of the credit union enjoy the experience and be accepting of more products and services. And, if the physical environment supports strong relationship building at every staff-to-member meeting point a high level of engagement, trust and mutual benefit will result for both the member and the credit union.” Some fixes are simple. For example retention of teller staff is becoming a growing challenge, and because much of their job is conducted standing or sitting many tellers experience fatigue as the day wears on and some even have varicose veins. Fatigue lessens productivity and bad ergonomics causes it to occur at a faster rate says Seibert. Designing a few elements in the space such as placing cash drawers to the side to avoid constant turning or collisions with other staffers, or providing foot railings and padded carpeting in the teller area to avoid leg strain can alleviate the complaints and even improve energy levels. Another key example of ergonomics gone wrong is found in the greeter station. The objective of the greeter is to provide personal service to members, develop relationships, teach and direct the flow of traffic in a space. Yet many stations are designed with counters that force greeters to lean over and as the day progresses many don’t stand up because of back pain. Seibert says counters should be no wider than 10-12 inches. “There are so many examples,” said Seibert. “But the bottom line with creating spaces incorporating good ergonomic planning becomes this-the staff is happy and motivated, members are delighted with the service and the credit union reduces cost and increases profit.” [email protected]</p>

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