Final Five

Davana PilczukWith Davana Pilczuk, ergonomics program manager at Cintas

Davana Pilczuk has been active in the former GOErgo group for several years. She won the Practitioner of the Year, Creativeness in Ergonomics Award at the Applied Ergonomics Conference in 2012 and is a keynote and public speaker for ergonomics, wellness and human performance. Pilczuk's doctorate in kinesiology is from Auburn University, and she formerly managed the corporate wellness program for Gulfstream Aerospace. 

What drew you to ergonomics?

I had a classmate in grad school who worked for NASA and she told me about ergonomics, a field I had never heard of. She explained that it was no different than working with athletes because the goal of ergo was to figure out how to help people perform better. By looking at training regimes, work-rest cycles and the types of equipment someone uses, we can better determine how to help improve performance while reducing the chance of injury. I found that concept fascinating.

Do you think having a CPE certification makes a difference?

I do not have a CPE. I am a kinesiologist, and I have a specialty in industrial engineering and ergonomics. Many people go into ergonomics because it has to do with the body, but not many people have a background in both kinesiology and engineering. Having a CPE simply provides proof that you have a solid technical background in ergonomics. It does not, however, guarantee you success since so much of what we do involves teaching people, understanding business financials and knowing how to influence others to change.

Were there hurdles you had to overcome being a woman in the industry?

The biggest hurdle was not that I was a woman, but that my approach and perspective were different than that of most engineers. Engineers tend to be detailed and are drawn to solving problems, but ergonomics is about people, and you must be able to connect with people if you're going to get anywhere. Engineers may not like hearing this, but the technical skills are equally as important as the soft skills. Your ability to listen, value and connect with others is your key to changing a culture. When I speak on how to lead any type of program, I always emphasize that despite the years of education and large student loans many of us have, we are no better than the person doing the job. Your job is a support role, nothing more.

How do you make wellness a priority at the corporate level?

I think a lot of people think of wellness as eating better, exercising, getting more sleep, etc. I teach companies not to focus on wellness per se, but performance. Enhancing performance is about combining knowledge of nutrition, sleep and stress management in a way that helps people perform better every day. For instance, which would you find more moving, knowing that getting eight hours of sleep helps reduce the chance of dementia or that the body has a natural circadian low between 3 and 5 p.m. every day causing you to feel sleepy? So don't schedule key meetings then because people will be falling asleep! Companies listen to the latter because performance affects their bottom line. Employees listen more to performance because they want to do better in life. The result is people become more aware of their sleep habits, which simultaneously leads to better health and better businesses. That's a win-win.

What advice would you give to graduates who want to make a strong impact?

My parents were house painters, and they taught me the value of respecting all people regardless of education or income. I grew up learning the art of talking to people and learning about who they are and what makes them tick. Your schooling will be more than adequate for the workforce. The hard part will be your ability to influence people. Read some Stephen Covey or John Maxwell books on leadership. If you can connect with others and understand that we are all going through the human condition together, you will gain both respect and admiration from those you help.

– Interview by Cassandra Johnson