Though the name may be a bit of a mouthful, the issues are actually rather familiar. Indeed, musculoskeletal conditions affect the joints, bones and muscles and also include rarer autoimmune diseases and back pain. Unfortunately, many of the adult population are affected by these sorts of conditions and this can massively impact their quality of life.
It’s up to employers, then, to consider how their staff are affected by these sorts of conditions and what they can do to help. Not only this, but they must also take preventative measures so that conditions aren’t caused at work. One study, carried out by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive in Great Britain), discovered that 507,000 workers suffered from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (new or long-standing) in 2016/17. That’s a huge number of us, so with that in mind, here is our IDEAL guide to making life easier for employees with musculoskeletal disorders.
A surprising fact in its range; one in four of the UK adult population are affected by musculoskeletal disorders. Based on data gathered in 2016/17, 45% of musculoskeletal disorders concern the upper limbs or neck, 38% the back, and 17% involve the lower limbs. Out of sufferers within working age (16-64), 59.4% are employed.
Unfortunately, those with musculoskeletal conditions struggle with full attendance, resulting in periods of absenteeism that may not be fully understood or covered by the employer. In fact, 30 million working days were lost due to these conditions worldwide in 2016. Based on calculations that consider the average UK salary and a working day of 7.5 hours, an individual sick day can cost an employer £107.85 if the worker receives full sick pay. A huge incentive, then, for the employer to create a working environment which both accommodates sufferers and promotes a working environment where further issues won’t arise.
WHAT ACTION CAN EMPLOYERS TAKE?
Due to the number of people that suffer with musculoskeletal conditions, it’s highly likely that employers will have to accommodate for a member of staff who suffers with the disorder. What can employers do to make work more enjoyable for these employees? And potentially reduce the number of sick days taken?
Working from home
Presenteeism is where employees come to work but with difficult or reduced efficiency and productivity due to them not feeling fully fit to work. 39% of public sector workers and 26% of private sector workers have experienced this in their own workplace according to the ONS (Office for National Statistics). This often occurs because an employee is afraid to call in sick out of fear of being penalised by their employer. One way to address this for sufferers of musculoskeletal disorders is to provide them with the option to work from home where possible.
Indeed, the commute to and from work can be difficult for those who experience musculoskeletal pain as getting in and out of a vehicle or riding public transport can be painful and inconvenient. Instead, employees can stay at home where they may feel more comfortable and get on with their work — reducing lost productivity time that may occur if they come into work.
In addition to this, being able to work from home allows these employees to attend regular rehabilitation or physiotherapy appointments and make up for the lost hours in their own time, at home. Perhaps their rehabilitation centre is closer to home than it is for work, and less time may be spent getting to and from their sessions than if they were travelling from the company.
Asking employees if they require – and subsequently providing where necessary – specialist equipment at work is another way to improve their comfort and reduce the risk of absenteeism, or further injuries. It is also part of your duty as a responsible employer to provide them. Examples of these include:
- Sitting or standing desks — Giving employees the option of a sitting or standing desk is one way to help. For some, standing upright may be more comfortable than sitting in the same position for a prolonged period.
- Ergonomic keyboard — These are designed to reduce muscle strain and should be offered to employees. For sufferers of musculoskeletal disorders, tasks that may be easy for some such as using a keyboard, mouse or pen can be difficult for someone who suffers with repetitive strain injury for example. Those with arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome may also struggle with these types of tasks.
- Lifting assistance — Where lifting is required as part of the job, offering assistance with heavy lifting can be helpful. A trolley for example can help employees transport objects that they might be struggling with. This may relieve muscle pain for example and can help prevent further injury and strain.
- Other equipment — By talking to employees, company bosses can find out about other types of specialist equipment that could be helpful — tailored to each person and their needs.
Although sufferers of musculoskeletal pain are generally prescribed their own medication or may use pain relief gels, offering complementary therapy at work can also be helpful, kind and the responsible thing to do. It could be something that employers could fund or offer to the full workforce.
Keeping stress and anxiety levels to a minimum is absolutely vital in the workplace – added stress can increase pain levels and deter employees from coming to work. There is a clear link between musculoskeletal disorders, mental health and work loss.
Yoga is a complementary therapy that has been found to help with musculoskeletal pain and anxiety, and should therefore be encouraged, or better yet facilitated, by bosses and managers. There are many ways that employers could encourage their workers to participate in this exercise — through organised classes within break times or after work, or through funding the classes. Although expensive, it’s possible that this extra exercise will help manage pain levels and reduce sick days.
OTHER METHODS OF SUPPORT
Offering overall support and making all workers feel valued in the workplace is important. What else can employers do to retain staff with musculoskeletal disorders?
- Promote good communication inside and outside of the workplace — Employers should take time to learn about each of their employees and their issues. This way, appropriate changes can be made at work which can encourage workers to come to their boss with problems and suggestions.
- Recognising and being aware of the conditions early on — If an employee has recently been diagnosed with a musculoskeletal issue, they should be encouraged to tell their employer as soon as possible. This allows for the company to intervene early and get the measures in place that will encourage the employee to return to work as soon as they can.
- Creating a ‘return-to-work’ programme — For those who have sustained an injury, creating a phased return could be beneficial for them. This reduces the risk of them taking a long period of sick leave through appropriate adjustments in their working environment.