The advances of technology have greatly enhanced productivity levels and enable both agile and mobile working. Indeed, it is it hard to believe how we ever got things done in business with just the phone, fax and post! But with all this wonderful technology, giving the freedom to work anywhere and increasing our pace of work, we have conversely become more tied to a sedentary way of working. The speed of change hasn’t really allowed us to cope with the risk factors this brings and there is a lack of education on 3 key factors:
- How to balance our new sedentary working habits
- How to spot the warning signs that we need to change our behaviour, both physically and mentally
- How to work healthily with laptops, computers and smartphone
Learning how to make simple adaptations can make a huge difference to our long-term back health. Indeed, I believe there are two big risk factors about to affect the workplace with the above in mind:
1. The ageing workforce
In mid-2014, the average age exceeded 40 for the
first time. By 2040, nearly one in seven people is projected to be aged over 75.
2. The younger age group just entering the workplace
As we age, we are unfortunately naturally more prone to illness and back pain, both of which increase rapidly after the age of 40 unless we know how to look after ourselves. Back pain, in particular, is a risk factor in the workplace, but age is not the only contributory factor, it can also be about the level of exposure. The new younger age group have grown up with technology and been more sedentary before they even reach the workplace. Endless studies have shown the reduced level of activity in teenagers as they become addicted to their online games and social media, or indeed just having to complete all their homework on a computer. In fact, incidences of back pain in the young have been increasing accordingly.
Although not all workers will experience health issues, the Work Foundation has forecast that one in three workers will be experiencing chronic ill health by 2020. Organisations that provide early intervention services (eg access to occupational health services, physiotherapy or counselling) and take a solution-focused approach to the situation, discussing and planning with staff themselves measures needed to help retain employment, are proven to be the most effective
And yet we are still not being taught the importance of exercise, posture and how to keep our backs healthy. Unless healthy behaviour and attitudes are taught at school, years of bad posture, coupled with a more sedentary lifestyle and the stressors of life and work, quickly have an accumulated effect. So are we going to have the two age groups catching up with each other in terms of incidences of back pain? This is on top of the higher incidences of mental health issues amongst the young, which impacts on our ability to cope with injury and vice versa.
What can we do? Doctors are sadly too busy to get involved in occupational healthcare and bespoke signposting to recovery. Despite guidelines from top medical groups, studies and recommendations, NBC news reported that doctors still tend to prescribe pain pills to people with back pain instead of physical therapy and exercise, which work better, see: nbcnews.to/2pzbjSz#ChoosePT.
It has been shown that the best preventative and reactive tools for dealing with back pain include:
- Posture education (both sitting and standing)
- Physical therapy
- Psychological counselling
- Movement during the day
- Stretching classes such as pilates, yoga and tai chi which all ease the mind too!
These are shown to be more effective than rest, opiods, surgery and a diagnosis by MRI. Unfortunately, the latter is shown not to work as well, cause addiction, fear and discourage proactive approach to getting better.
If back pain is resolved quickly, there is a higher chance of a quick return to work, less sick leave and reduced loss of productivity levels. Once a person is struggling with back pain, without proper support, they can start to feel let down, affecting their recovery and mental health struggles with frustration. In fact, job satisfaction and a positive attitude are among the strongest indicators of whether back pain will turn into serious disability.
The right approach early on is key with positive messages of support and looking at ways to guide employees to recovery whilst they are in the workplace. I often see clients who feel so under pressure with work that they don’t feel they can spare the time to get the right help.
I believe that it is highly beneficial to consider the below in the workplace
TOP 6 PILLARS FOR WORKPLACE WELLBEING
1. Provide proactive regular expert workstation assessments and education on good posture (including advice on mobile and active working)
2. Train and support managers in knowing how to handle back pain and stress in the workplace
3. Consider health insurance to cover physiotherapy appointments and mental health support (as the speed of treatment is key)
4. Encourage attendance of exercise classes that also help with mental health (i.e pilates, yoga and tai chi, as well as taking regular exercise)
5. Provide education on the importance of good nutrition (that also helps to reduce inflammation in the body and encourages healthy muscles and nerves)
6. Provide the culture that supports all of the above
What systems do you currently have in-house to support the health and wellbeing of your employees?
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