Which office bad habits are hurting your workforce (and how to avoid them)

11 January 2018

Slouching in your seat?  Not drinking enough water?  It might seem frivolous, but these habits could be causing serious damage.

We all know what we're supposed to be doing - 'sit up straight, relax your shoulders, take regular strolls to stretch your legs.'

The question is, how many employees actually implement this advice?

Everyone's busy and there are other things to be getting on with, but it's worth another look at how to snap out of those bad habits.

Bad habits in the office can increase the risk of employees picking up a range of musculoskeletal complaints.  Let's look at the three most common:

Back pain - according to the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), most people will suffer one or more episodes of back pain during their lives¹.

And of the 507,000 work-related musculoskeletal disorders reported in 2016/17, 38% reported the back at their affected area².

Back pain can arrive suddenly or develop gradually.  It can be caused by a number of different work and non work-related activities - but sitting is a big part of the problem.  Sitting for long periods of time, such as a working day, can cause unnecessary strain on the back³.

Neck and shoulder pain - similarly, neck and shoulder pain is a large issue for the UK's workers. 

"Our bodies are designed to move, so prolonged periods of sitting still - especially if we are hunched or slouched at our desks - can cause stiffness and tension in our muscles and joints," says Unum's Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant, Jenna Mullett.

"Set yourself some reminders to get up and move.  You could use your phone or email reminders.  And don't be afraid to do some simple stretching exercises throughout the day to release any built-up tension".

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) - Statistics from 2016/17 show that upper limb musculoskeletal (MSDs) account for 45% of reported work-related MSDs which include RSI complaints².  Repetitive movement such as keyboard work and being in awkward or tiring positions is a common risk factor in developing upper limb work-related MSDs.

For patients reporting such issues to GPs, these problems are commonly found in the hand, wrist or arm4 - a sign that job factors such as sitting at desks making short, minimal movements on a keyboard or mouse may be a contributory risk factor in developing RSI symptoms.  It should be highlighted that there are also many individual risk factors that can also lead to these types of MSDs.

Employers should have internal procedures in place for reporting issues and offering employees further support, such as a workstation assessment.  The office is a hive of bad habits and inactivity.  But just a few simple fixes can help keep workers healthier, happier and free from discomfort.

Sources - Unum

1 BCA. (2017). Back pain

2 HSE. (2017). Work-related musculoskeletal disorder statistics in Great Britain, p2

3 UCLA Health. (2017). Ergonomics for prolonged health

4 HSE. (2017). Work-related musculoskeletal disorder statistics in Great Britain, p8

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