I’m currently very busy conducting workstation assessments and offering advice both to companies and their employees who are now based at home because of Coronavirus. For obvious reasons, temporarily, a lot of my work has now switched from face-to-face to online.
Individuals are being asked to convert their home into an office, to set up a ‘Home Office’ for the first time, and there are many helpful steps, practical tips and professional advice I can offer with this.
Recent advances in technology have greatly enhanced our productivity levels and our ability to work flexibly and on the move. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how we ever got things done back in the day when the only business tools we could use were our desk telephone, fax machine and the post.
But along with all this wonderful new technology — and despite the freedom it brings us to work wherever we wish — we have actually become more tied to a sedentary way of working.
The biggest issue that I am seeing recently has been caused by the need to go online for all our meetings. Whilst this has fantastic benefits, just as saving time and travel (and the environment), the evolution of back to back meeting has arisen. Whereas, back when we had physical meetings, it was simply not possible to have back to back meetings with no break in-between.
Now because everything is online, many of my clients are going directly from one meeting to the next, with no opportunity for a standing or mental break. In order to protect against stress and back pain, therefore, I always recommend:
- Try and encourage your colleagues to have a break between meetings, by keeping the meetings to 45/50 minutes instead of an hour, or schedule meetings off the hour.
- If you are experiencing back to back meetings, try attending some on a phone or ipad, so you can walk around whilst on the meeting, or take the laptop to a standing surface.
- With many using their in-built camera laptop for online meetings, at least ensure that the screen is directly in front of you rather than over to one side. Raise it up to eye level so you aren’t slouching down — I use a nexstand stand to raise the laptop as it allows me to quickly move the laptop to the correct position for my online calls (I place it in front of my monitor for the calls as this is my main screen).
The ageing workforce is getting older. In 2014, the average age of the British worker exceeded 40 for the first time. By 2040, nearly one in seven people is projected to be aged over 75.
But from the back-health perspective, the prognosis for the young entering the world of work today is pretty bleak.
As we age, we are 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.
However, younger age groups have grown up with technology and become more sedentary in their lifestyles even before they even reach the workplace.
Millions of British youngsters also have to complete their homework on a computer. As a result, alarmingly, incidences of back pain have been increasing in the young.
In my 14 years as an ergonomist and back-pain expert, I have supported hundreds of UK companies, and over 3,000 individuals, advising them on how they can reduce their risk to back pain and injury in the workplace. In my experience, there are three main risk factors where we need to grow our learning curve:
Organisations that provide early intervention services (eg, access to occupational health services, physiotherapy or counselling) and adopt a solution-focused approach, 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.
So what can be done?
Coronavirus is, understandably, keeping doctors very pre-occupied at present and they are far too busy to get involved in occupational healthcare such as this.
In general, doctors still tend to prescribe pain pills to people with back pain instead of physical therapy and exercise, which are more effective at relieving symptoms in the long term.
The best preventative and reactive tools for dealing with back pain include:
- Posture education (sitting and standing)
- Physical therapy
- Psychological counselling
- Movement during the day
- Nutrition and
- Stretching classes such as Pilates, yoga and Tai chi, which all ease the mind too.
These are shown to be more effective than rest, opioids, surgery and a diagnosis by MRI. 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, and this can affect their recovery and mental health struggles through feelings of frustration.
By contrast, feelings of job satisfaction and a positive attitude are among the strongest indicators of whether back pain will turn into serious disability.
Nichola Adams, Founder of Inspired Ergonomics. www.inspiredergonomics.com