There's more than pain at risk from poor posture

According to research, poor posture at work can lead to back pain and trigger higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression which means time off work for many employees.

Back pain caused by bad posture is an issue affecting around 70 per cent of the nation’s workforce and is now the second most common complaint among people visiting their company’s human resources department.

The issue of bad posture is a massive threat to employers, potentially costing organisations millions of pounds each year in lost labour and productivity.

Employers have a duty to provide safe and stress-free working conditions for all staff and this includes the provision of information and training for employees about workplace posture and ergonomics. Poor posture at work is a major cause of back pain, workplace stress and even more serious complaints, resulting in low morale, reduced productivity, lost time and higher costs.

Every employee absence caused by the effects of bad posture holds potentially detrimental long-term implications for both the organisation and the individual. A business will invariably suffer reduced efficiency while the morale and application of the person affected by posture-related discomfort will also diminish.

Providing education, advice and training about workplace posture is an integral part of maximising investment in employees. In many businesses employees are the most expensive asset so it makes sense to ensure they can work efficiently. Modern life is bad for posture and the chances are that any new employee may have existing musculoskeletal problems. If this is tackled at the beginning rather than later on when the individual is absent time can be saved, the employee will provide better value for money and the employer can achieve an advantage over its competitors, particularly those who fail to act on this issue.

In fact, enabling a positive approach to posture is a serious competitive advantage. If you’re wondering how organisations can benefit from investing in posture, there are three main areas to consider:

Greater efficiency

Official statistics and reports about workplace illness and absence have listed musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as the biggest cause, within which, back pain is substantially the largest element.

So taking steps to reduce the potential for pain and discomfort due to poor posture is a significant opportunity to increase efficiency and morale at little investment compared to other performance initiatives.

Compliance with health and safety law

UK Health and Safety legislation relating to workplace posture includes a six-step approach to training:

  • User awareness in correct and timely detection and recognition of hazards and risks.
  • Simple explanation of causes of risk mechanisms of harm (i.e. poor posture).
  • User-initiated actions to bring risks under control including training on posture.
  • Arrangements for bringing problems out into the open and taking action.
  • Information about the regulations to be given to users.
  • The user's duties.

Reducing the threat of litigation from injured or stressed employees

There are serious risks for employers who ‘allow’ people to suffer from posture-related health problems. The potential cost to employers of finding themselves on the wrong end of a claim for damages can be so high it is worth reducing all risks as far as possible. Employers that are able to demonstrate adequate steps have been taken to prevent posture-related problems and injuries will most easily be able to defend any claims which do arise.

“In the meantime, for any employees who may be suffering the effects of poor posture, there are simple exercises that can help improve physical wellbeing, specifically if the back is the area the pain or discomfort is emanating from:

  • Stretch it out – people often spend much of the working day hunched over a computer, so every 20 minutes, try to get up for a couple minutes and stretch, stand-up, walk around the office and stand to answer the phone.
  • Sit up straight - when working at your desk, sit up with good, tall posture, but relax your shoulders and let them drop, which can take a while to master but is worth it. Also ensure your work station is set up for good posture – no slouching.
  • Support your spine – give your spine a bit of help and build up strength in your back extensors, neck flexors, pelvic muscles and side muscles. Building endurance in the spine and trunk muscle groups is also important, allowing us to stand for long periods without suffering back pain.
  • Lift your weight – bone-thinning through osteoporosis can be mitigated with weight-bearing exercises, like walking, stair climbing and even weight lifting. People who walk regularly tend to have better bone density in later life, so forget calling and walk around the office to talk to colleagues.”

Jim Thorp, clinical head, programme director and lead therapist at JT Ethos

Image source: Shutterstock/Lisa S