Home Health & Wellness New Working Styles, Same Back Pain: The Impact of Musculoskeletal on the Workforce

New Working Styles, Same Back Pain: The Impact of Musculoskeletal on the Workforce

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Musculoskeletal (MSK) health is key to maintaining the good function of our physical bodies. Approximately a third of people in the UK live with an MSK condition, causing lasting effects on productivity, presenteeism, and absenteeism in the workplace. Workplace support for MSK conditions is one of the most important factors when it comes to aiding recovery or managing chronic pain.

Currently, 1 in 6 people suffer from neck pain, and in some cases, it’s so challenging that it’s impacting people’s ability to do their jobs effectively. This rise in back and neck pain could be partially linked to post-pandemic changes in the workplace. Usually, our workstations at the office are typically well-adjusted to our needs, but the surge in remote work has altered this scenario for many of us.

As new ways of working have emerged, it’s become more common for people to work without the right set-up. “When we work from home, we tend to prioritise comfort over ergonomics. It might feel convenient to open our laptops and work from the sofa (or even bed!), but this leads to constant strain on our neck and back due to unsupportive postures,” says Jon Booker, physical wellbeing expert at Westfield Health. 

Unfortunately, that’s not the only problem at play. Significantly high NHS wait times, especially for MSK issues like ongoing neck and back pain, create a barrier to medical care. One study noted that nearly 60% of general patients are waiting 18 weeks for an NHS consultation. So, no wonder more people are suffering for longer with these musculoskeletal issues.” 

A range of factors can lead to poor musculoskeletal health in workplace settings, especially when working remotely. Poor ergonomics and bad posture, prolonged screen time and a lack of movement can all contribute to musculoskeletal issues and health concerns. When working from home, we can sometimes feel isolated, anxious or stressed, which may be increased by an unsuitable workspace. Couple that with extended periods of sitting and the absence of face-to-face interactions, and people may experience a dip in overall mental and physical wellbeing on top of muscular aches and pains. 

“Ultimately, it’s key to prioritise your team’s health and provide well-being initiatives that prevent a sedentary lifestyle, especially for remote workers,” he adds. 

Since employers and HR teams aren’t always in the same space as their people, it can be hard to gauge physical wellbeing and health concerns.  Communication may also be hindered by the lack of face-to-face time. When this disconnect begins, challenges can go unnoticed by employers, negatively impacting individual health. This is intensified if an employee doesn’t feel comfortable speaking with HR or their line managers about ongoing pain.

 It’s also difficult to monitor an employee’s work-life balance. Remote workers may find that the boundaries between their personal and professional lives blur, making it difficult to switch off and relax from work and potentially leading to a rise in stress, burnout or productivity issues.

“The ergonomic set-up of employees’ desks at home is also another challenge which many employers may struggle with.  Education about healthy posture and ergonomic desk set-ups can offer people the tools they need for healthy remote working. Well-implemented health and wellbeing solutions, like health cash plans, are another way to encourage individuals to prioritise their health, ”  says Group Director of People at Westfield Health, Vicky Walker. 

It’s important to understand that workplace wellbeing strategies aren’t an easy “one-size-fits-all” solution. Individuals have specific needs, and these solutions must be accessible and inclusive to a diverse range of employees. 

This might sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. It starts with gathering feedback directly from individuals to determine what support is needed and how best to implement the strategy. “For homeworkers, this might include things like support with musculoskeletal problems, remote mental health support and financial support for routine appointments such as eye tests,” says Vicky. 

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