In 2019 there were around 500,000 work-related MSK injuries, leading to 6.9m working days lost and costing businesses £15bn.
With many of these injuries said to be caused by employees adopting awkward or tiring positions for keyboard use, it is clear that the dramatic Covid-19 initiated rise in working from home could greatly exacerbate this issue.
Most employees don’t have access to ergonomic office equipment and, indeed, the sofa and the bed have quickly replaced the traditional desk as the common place for UK workers to conduct their activity. Furthermore, the removal of the need to travel to work, to lunch and to speak to colleagues means that most people are getting up and moving about less often.
This might have been easier to live with before, when the majority of employees worked from home only occasionally. However, with many now spending their entire working week at home – and half of people already reporting an increase in back and neck pain – employees need to get advice on setting up an ergonomically healthy workstation and building regular movement into their day.
So far that hasn’t been the case. That’s understandable, as we know employers have had a very tough time working hard to adapt their services and systems. However, with only around 12 per cent of employees having been given a work-from-home assessment, just 15 per cent having received advice on how to set up their home workspace and 17 per cent invited to ask for support with this, it is clear that more does need to be done in this area.
On the other side of the coin, research suggests that employers that invest in supporting their employees to introduce healthy home working practices see numerous benefits – including increased productivity, a happier workforce and a stronger employer brand.
More than eight out of 10 people – 85 per cent – say they would prefer to work for a company that takes steps to make working from home easier, whether that’s by providing appropriate equipment, offering support and advice on a healthy ergonomic set-up or having an open conversation about work-from-home options in the future.
We know that many employers are already doing great work in this area. Some are giving their employees the option of borrowing ergonomic office equipment that’s not being used at present, while others are providing their staff with access to qualified physiotherapy clinicians, who can advise on setting up a healthy workspace and on exercises and stretches that can be done throughout the day to increase movement, maintain mobility and minimise the chance of injury.
Official Government advice remains to work from home “if you can” and, from the very beginning, Government scientists recommended that social distancing measures stay in place “for 12 months on-and-off”. So it should be expected that the current work situation will be with us for a good while yet. Many reports have suggested that workers hope that work-from-home options will stay in place after the pandemic.
There is lots of evidence that home working can have real benefits for both employer and employee. A 2019 report by the International Workplace Group found that allowing employees to work from home increased productivity and reduced costs, while it also improved employee wellbeing by taking away the commute – which is felt by many people to be the worst part of their day.
To really reap the benefits of a work from home strategy though, employers need to equip their staff with the things they need to be successful. That starts with a healthy workspace that protects them from injury as well as advice and encouragement on how they can build more movement into their day. It should also include open communications channels which make it easy for staff to ask questions, along with access to advice and support to protect and improve their physical and mental health.
Failing to support employees with a healthy ergonomic home working set-up could result in an explosion of MSK injuries that adds extra pressure to individuals, businesses and the health service at what is already an extremely challenging time. It’s widely accepted that how we behave during this experience will be remembered for a long time to come. Looking after your people isn’t just good for your people, it’s good for your business too.