When it comes to looking after your employees, thinking about every aspect of their physical and mental health is vital.
Back pain might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to your workplace wellbeing strategy – but when you consider the impact it could have on your staff, and your business as a whole, knowing how to prevent and support those suffering with it could make a huge difference.
Along with other musculoskeletal problems, back pain was the second most common reason given for sickness absence in 2018 in the UK, equating to 28.3 million working days lost (almost 20% of the total days taken off).
And of course, it’s not just about trying to reduce absence: if any of your team members are struggling to cope with pain despite having made it into the office, they’re not likely to be working very productively with this added distraction – so a proportion of the £15.1 billion lost by UK businesses each year because of presenteeism can be directly attributed to backache.
Not only that, but allowing a problem to persist by doing nothing to help means your employee’s wellbeing is likely to decline, and they may even begin struggling with depression or stress if their back pain becomes a regular feature in their life.
The good news is that by incorporating procedures and practices into your wellbeing strategy that deal specifically with posture, working arrangements, and access to a range of healthcare services, you can help reduce the likelihood of your staff being impacted.
It’s especially pertinent right now, as many continue to work from home, some businesses reopen following lockdown, and all are looking at the various ways that they can introduce healthier working practices for their teams.
Are they sitting comfortably?
There are so many options when it comes to seating – and providing a standard office chair isn’t necessarily the best way forward if you want to keep your team feeling fit and healthy. Specialist seating can provide the proper back support for your staff member, and help ensure they are sitting in a position which isn’t going to cause pain.
If sitting upright at a desk all day is a problem, then consider whether a reclining office chair or a standing desk might be better options. Laptop positioners can also be used to ensure employees aren’t sat in an uncomfortable pose while using their screen.
This equipment might come at a higher price than a standard office set-up, but when you consider the long-term cost of not looking after employees then this initial investment is normally well worth it.
Have a break
Just as regular breaks are advised to avoid problems with headaches and eyesight, they’re also going to benefit your back too – The Health and Safety Executive advises sitting in one position for too long can cause back pain at work.
So, what can you do as an employer to encourage regular breaks? If your staff are now working back in the office, do you have a space you can provide where they could do some gentle stretches? Is there an outdoor area they could make use of during the day? Could you put on a (socially distanced) yoga or Pilates class at lunchtime using one of the many fantastic YouTube channels out there? Or could you incorporate walking meetings into your day to reduce the amount of time they’re sat down for?
Let’s get physical
Regular breaks are incredibly important to help shift posture and prevent aches and pains – but ensuring staff don’t simply use those breaks to sit down in another location is also key! Regular exercise is advised by the NHS in order to prevent back pain, and being fitter and stronger is always helpful when it comes to musculoskeletal problems.
As well as encouraging movement during breaks, are there other policies you can include in your wellbeing strategy which would support team members looking to increase their exercise levels? Allowing staff to work flexibly could enable them to attend daytime gym classes; small rewards for those swapping car travel in favour of a walking commute to work (where feasible) could help the environment as well as employee wellbeing; or how about starting your very own football, netball, rugby or other sporting team? There are lots of workplace sports leagues already set up, or you could even start your own.
Around 60% of us intend to spend more time working from home for the foreseeable future than we did pre-Coronavirus. While this is an absolute win for flexibility, life/work balance and productivity, it does mean staff aren’t necessarily working from a proper desk.
Snuggling up under the duvet might seem an ideal way to spend a work day, but it’s definitely not going to be kind on your back in the long-term. You may even already be seeing a rise in staff complaining about their back having worked in an unsuitable location for months during lockdown.
If you want to ensure your employees aren’t disadvantaged health-wise by working from home, then you should be ensuring that they have access to the same sorts of positioning equipment as is available in the office. Now would be an ideal time for team managers to organise one-to-one video chats or calls with staff members intending to work from home more often, to check what their working set-up is and whether the organisation can assist with ensuring they’ve got a comfortable and appropriate space to spend their days.
Talk to a professional
Sadly, back pain can happen even to those following all of the expert advice. It could be the result of an accident, a sporting injury, an underlying health condition, or any number of other reasons. So, when it does happen, your team should be able to access a range of services to help get them back on their feet as quickly as possible.
Ideally, they’d be able to take time off work to see their GP about the problem – but if physically attending an appointment is a worry for them given the ongoing Coronavirus risk or they’re struggling to get a slot due to rising waiting times, that’s where access to an online or phone-based GP app service can make all the difference. They’ll be able to get an appointment at a time to suit, receive a referral if specialist care is needed, and have a private prescription sent to a pharmacy of their choice or even dropped at their door for a small cost.
If employees have a Health Cash Plan through their workplace, then do ensure they know about the benefits which can include access to a chiropractor, physiotherapist, acupuncturist, Reiki practitioner and any number of other health and wellbeing professionals, depending on the level of cover you have selected, who might be able to help reduce their back pain.
Who’s at risk?
Looking after all of your employees is the aim of a workplace wellbeing strategy, but managers should have a good knowledge of who might be at risk from certain conditions, so they can keep an eye out for team members within those groups and provide extra support if needed.
Anyone can get back pain, of course, but those who have been diagnosed with a slipped disc, sciatica, ankylosing spondylitis or spondylolisthesis are likely to suffer – and those more at risk include older employees, smokers, pregnant staff and those who are required to repeatedly bend or lift as part of their job.
For more information about what a Health Cash Plan is, and how it can be useful for symptoms like back pain, visit https://www.paycare.org/health-cash-plans/.
Since 1874, Paycare (formerly known as Patient’s Aid Association) has worked to help individuals, families, businesses, and their employees access a variety of preventative and reactive healthcare services which protect their financial, physical and mental health and wellbeing. Its dedicated mental health service — Paycare Wellbeing — launched in 2019 and provides qualified and confidential training to Corporate Groups including Managers, CEOs and HR teams.