HR and Why Musculoskeletal Health Matters
The term “musculoskeletal health” might not be the catchiest phrase you will hear in the workplace; indeed most offices won’t ever use the term at all. But it’s certainly true thatwhat more and more businesses and organisations workplaces are taking health and well-being seriously, making it a core component of overall management and HR practice.
Much of the mental health provision in the workplace tends to focus on the management of the immediate symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Much of it may relate back to how employees are interacting with the everyday responsibilities of their job, whether that be answering e-mails, co-ordinating personnel, or project management.
But the best employers and organisations will need to go further – they will need a more wholly holistic approach to looking after their employees’ health. This is why musculoskeletal health is an important component of any workplace well-being strategy – it’s inexorably linked to mental health, and the wider health of the body.
What do we mean by musculoskeletal conditions?
Musculoskeletal health conditions can take on a variety of forms, but here are just some of the most notable examples:
• Joint conditions – e.g. arthritis including , osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
• Bone conditions – e.g. osteoporosis
• Spinal disorders.
• Regional pain disorders – e.g. tennis elbow, frozen shoulder.
• Musculoskeletal injuries – e.g. bone or muscle injuries caused by physical injury, sports injuries, repetitive strain injuries, headaches or posture related injuries.
Why does musculoskeletal health matter?
There’s perhaps one abiding reason why employers need to care more about musculoskeletal (MSK) health and related health disorders – it’s statistically one of the biggest drivers of sickness and absence in the workplace. A quick glance of the statistics surrounding MSK disorders in the UK gives you a picture of how large scale the problem can be.
• 1 in 8 of the working age population have reported suffering from an MSK related condition.
• 33% of long term sickness is attributed to an MSK related disorder.
• 23% of working days lost is attributable to an MSK related disorder.
• The employment rate for people who complain that an MSK disorder is their worst.
• An estimated 9.5 million working days were lost to an MSK related health condition.
A quick glance at the above statistics offers just a glimpse of how poor MSK related health can have a ripple effect on the wider workplace, as well as a country’s economy and overall wellbeing score. There are any number of reasons why musculoskeletal health is vital for overall mental and physical well-being.
• Musculoskeletal health supports us with dexterity, mobility and co-ordination, as well as increasing our overall physical and mental fitness.
• A failure to take care of your musculoskeletal health can lead to heightened anxiety and depression.
• Musculoskeletal disorders can quickly and easily affect physical function, leading to back pain, joint pain and repetitive strain injury; these are all conditions which are more likely to lead to prolonged sickness absence and potential long-term health problems in the workplace.
The business case for good musculoskeletal health
Good MSK health makes business sense on a number of levels, both from a bottom line commercial perspective but also from a more holistic standpoint. MSK health problems can manifest themselves in a number of ways for organisations.
• Sick pay
• Lost productivity and skills.
• Possible re-training costs.
There are also a number of important reasons why it makes business sense for organisations and employers to safeguard the MSK health of their employees.
• A workplace which is aware of MSK health is more likely to be one in which physical safety and healthy behaviour are promoted and even celebrated.
• Good MSK practice can help to create a more harmonious working environment which is both happy and engaged, and where employees feel free to speak up about any health concerns they may have.
• MSK health complaints affect 100 million people across Europe, but can remain undiagnosed and, consequently, untreated.
Creating a work culture for good MSK health
There are a number of ways that employers and organisations can place MSK health at the heart of their business practices, leading to better physiological and mental health overall.
• Firstly, understanding that MSK disorders are manageable and preventable, and placing this at the heart of any HR strategy.
• Taking a pro-active approach in encouraging employees to look after their own physiological well-being. This includes improving overall communication, and encouraging employees to play a role in improving their working environment so that it is more conducive to better physical and mental wellbeing; e.g. increased physical activity, reduced alcohol consumption, improved diet.
• Making employee well-being a boardroom issue, ensuring that any issues relating to MSK health are dealt with within the work culture of an organisation.
• Minimising the physical risks which can lead to musculoskeletal disorders, be it through posture, manual handling of heavy objects, or the duration and/or intensity of the working day.
Prevention, intervention and rehabilitation
Prevention, intervention and rehabilitation should be placed at the heart of any HR strategy, ensuring that employees are given the right to keep their MSK health at optimum. The importance of musculoskeletal health as a tool of preventing other mental and physical conditions can’t be underestimated.
• Risk awareness and avoidance of physical exertion which can cause musculoskeletal problems.
• Risk awareness and avoidance of work-related effects, which can cause musculoskeletal problems. This may include providing an ergonomic assessment via occupational health or a local osteopath, physiotherapist or chiropractor.
• Risk awareness and avoidance of equipment use in all aspects of life not just at work. For instance desk and chair set up at home, sleeping posture and positioning and use of technology such as smart phones and tablets.
• Referring employees to specialist support and advice. For example, courses of osteopathy, chiropractic and physiotherapy not only help to address musculoskeletal problems, but also offer a holistic, joined up approach to overall physical and mental well-being.
• Referring employees to non-specialist support and advice. For example regular and semi regular holistic and wellbeing treatments such as massage (deep tissue, aromatherapy, Indian head massage) or exercise such as Pilates and yoga classes. This may also include promotion and encouragement to get involved in group and team sports activities. This will help to also build team rapport and develop inter-team skills.
What is clear is that MSK health is a key component of general wellness, but the question remains to what extent UK workplaces are serious about placing it at the heart of their business practices.