Cognitive ergonomics keeps knowledge workers sharp

Blog: Sofia Jakas, Interior Architect, Physiotherapist, Physical Training Instructor, Martela

The brain is under a great deal of pressure in working life. The interaction between people, work and technology is taxing on our attentiveness, as well as on our observation, memory and thinking abilities.

Knowledge work burdens the brain, and issues related to work cause additional pressure and stress. The increasing use of technology creates pressure to learn new digital skills and software and adapt to changing ways of working. Problems with digital tools cause frustration and interruptions, while also slowing us down.

Many people try to solve their daily time management problems by multitasking – that is, checking their socials and responding to emails while attending a meeting, for example. However, our working memory can only handle three data units simultaneously, which is why doing several things at the same time, interruptions and noise increase the feeling of pressure.

Even a healthy person of working age may suffer from memory lapses, learning difficulties and sleep disorders that arise from stress caused by technology and chaotic working days.

Cognitive recovery requires taking good care of the brain

The blurring boundaries between knowledge work and free time and between the workplace and other locations are challenging for the brain. People work in various places, such as coffee shops and while commuting. They work late into the evening on the couch or at the kitchen table on telecommuting days or when deadlines are nearing. They think about work in the evening and at the weekend and when going for a run or taking a sauna.

With work no longer being limited to the workplace and working hours, when does our brain have the chance to relax and recover?

For knowledge workers to be able to think clearly, the brain must be able to recover both during and after the working day. It is important that we understand this, as supervisors and individuals. How can we support our cognitive recovery and comprehensive well-being?

If you listen, your brain will tell you what it needs!

Brain functions are hindered by too low and too high blood sugar levels, as well as blood sugar fluctuations. For this reason, meals at regular intervals and nutritious snacks are good for the brain.

According to research, being still does not activate brain functions, but a little activity does, which is why we should take a moment to do something completely different during the working day: exercise a little, do balance exercises or pop outside. A fifteen-minute nap is also a good way to recharge.

Brain vitality and recovery are more about a combination of many little things rather than one major thing.

According to research, the best medicines for the brain in free time are spending time with loved ones, doing something fun, outdoor activities, eating healthily and sleeping well. Their effects vary between individuals, so we should try different things and observe our vitality levels.

Design work environments that support cognitive ergonomics

The work environment can either support or hinder cognitive functions. Cognitive ergonomics is a design approach to creating work environments that facilitate brain vitality.

Cognitive ergonomics promotes the well-being of the brain – in the same manner that traditional ergonomics facilitates the well-being of the body.

A work environment that improves well-being and productivity is a dynamic combination of the physical, social and digital dimensions. It involves design solutions based on a comprehensive understanding of the users of the work environment and the type of their work – solutions that support and inspire cognitive performance in practice.

The competitiveness of organisations involved in knowledge work lies between the ears: let’s take good care of our brain!