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BellaOnline's Ergonomics Editor

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Changing the Work Environment

Guest Author - virginia hixson

Going to Abilene?


In my project management studies, one interesting group dynamic we covered was The Abilene Paradox (J Harvey, George Washington University). It starts with a parable.

A family, briefly reunited by a visit to parents, sat around on a hot Texas afternoon (about 104 degrees). They sat on the porch in the breeze of a fan drinking cold lemonade and played Dominoes.

Suddenly the father suggests a car trip into Abilene (about 50 miles away) to have dinner at the cafeteria. Everyone agrees, so they pile into the old car (no air conditioning) and head out into a dust storm. The scene fades out until they arrive back home.

Four Hours later everyone was back on the porch, but the atmosphere was quite different. No one spoke for a long time. Finally the truth come out: No one had wanted to go to Abilene. The food was awful. The trip was torture. AND everyone had known it would be this way before they set out.

So, why on a hot July day in Texas did they end up in Abilene? The father felt responsible for providing entertainment and felt Dominoes wasn’t enough. Everyone else agreed because they thought someone else they loved wanted to go. No one was happy.

The Lesson


In all parts of life we get into situations where we want to please someone or at least not cause trouble by bringing up objections to a plan. In business, “going along” can create some expensive mistakes. In private life it’s more likely just to create unhappiness and distress. What outcomes are really desired? Don’t go to Abilene unless you really want to.

In Ergonomics, the choices you make in work position, work methods and in tool or equipment selection can stay with you for a long time. If you spend $500.00 on a new chair, chances are you won’t replace it very soon whether you’re an individual person or a corporation. Before you buy, do some investigation and make sure what you select will fill your need. Find out all the pros and cons, the benefits and the drawbacks of the piece. Make sure it will do what you need done.

With any type of change, be it a process change or an equipment change, there are always tradeoffs. In almost all cases, if you make a major or company–wide change, there will be an initial period of discontent. During this time it’s wise to take the complaints and address only those that are the strongest, most numerous, or appear to be related to the already identified weak places in your change plan. Keep track of all the other complaints because they may develop into major issues. After a few weeks or a month you can go back to the situation and reassess.

Is what was initially a problem still a problem? If so set up a priority list and begin to address them. If not, it was probably just an adjustment that needed to be accommodated or a bit of learning (postural, process, or factual) that needed to occur.

Signs That There is a Real Problem:h3>
If there is a real problem with a change:
  • The need to address it immediately may be clear.

  • The problem does not disappear after passage of a few weeks.

  • The problem gets worse as time moves on.

  • People will being making “work arounds” to try to ‘fix’ their work issues. This is particularly true with work process or software changes but also occurs with changes to the physical environment.

    • Speak with the people who actually use the tools or the process that was implemented. If you learn what the “work arounds” are they often lead to a better problem definition and to good solutions.


  • With a chair purchase the timeline is a little shorter. Give it a week for your body to adjust. Then call the vendor and ask for advice. Generally a simple adjustment to the chair will be needed. Since you are new to the product you may not have thought of this as making the difference you need. A good chair fitter will know his product and know all the potential issues.

    This moves into another area. Before you buy the chair, make sure you have a good chair vendor / fitter.

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Content copyright © 2014 by virginia hixson. All rights reserved.
This content was written by virginia hixson. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.

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