Many employers could be facing a tidal wave of musculoskeletal issues and need to make adjustments now. By Chris Rofe, Senior Vice-President, Lockton Benefits.
Half of 14-year-olds already suffer from back pain, according to research by Cardinus Risk Management, the health and risk management specialist.
The problem stems from how many younger people are using new technologies, specifically smart devices. The problem is even more pronounced among primary school children: a third experienced neck or back pain in the past week, found the same research.
A third of primary-school children experienced neck or back pain in the past week.
While shocking and worrying in its own right, it also poses questions of employers for the years ahead, when many of these young people will enter the workplace.
Children with back pain are four times more likely to suffer from back pain as adults. How might employers accommodate and support so many young workers with pronounced postural problems? What ergonomic alterations should be considered? What about private medical insurance premiums where musculoskeletal disorders are commonly among the top-three drivers of claims costs?
Healthcare plans, wellness programmes and other benefits products may all need to be reconsidered in light of these musculoskeletal issues.
Duty of care
Many young people have sub-optimal ways of using technology – for example, while using poor quality chairs, under unsuitable lighting and without keyboards. The lack of screen adjustability and virtual keyboards encourage poor posture and can lead to discomfort in a number of body areas, especially in the neck and wrists.
Employers might have to become more involved in influencing employees’ bad behaviours and posture.
Young people’s eyes are also being negatively affected because of the demand for clear near vision, and the visual and muscular energy required to move between different screens.
In future, employers might find they are more involved in influencing employees’ bad behaviours and posture. It is unclear, however, much correction is possible.
Because of the increasingly blurred line between work and personal activities, these issues can be very hard for companies to manage. For example, how much do you know about what happens to your employees outside of work? What if some employees have a second job that compromises their posture and you incur the ill-effects of their problems? How do you keep an eye on employees who work from home?
79% of generation Z consumers display symptoms of emotional distress when kept away from their personal electronic devices.
Employers will need to address not just young employees' pre-existing musculoskeletal disorders and health conditions, but also their attitudes. A different type of ergonomics education will be needed to ensure the message gets through.
Younger people’s attachment to technology is emotional as well as physical. Almost four fifths (79%) of generation Z consumers – generally classified as consumers born between 1995 and 2010 – display symptoms of emotional distress when kept away from their personal electronic devices, according to research conducted by Cardinus Risk Management.
It might be just as damaging to try to limit access to devices as it is to allow current usage. Instead, we need to change behaviour.
Here are a number of specific ways that organisations can think about adapting to the changing needs of the workforce:
• Gather data – for example, sickness absence, medical claims, accidents and long-term absences.
• Analyse data – where are the hotspots? Are there trends by age or location?
• Draw these data-oriented findings into part of an integrated health and wellbeing strategy.
• Within this strategy, deploy tactics such as: ensuring all desks and chairs have the necessary adjustability; providing laptop docking where possible; encouraging workplace mobility, with regular breaks from devices and screens.
Beyond specific advice for mitigating ergonomics risk, organisations need to consider the reality of their employees’ working and personal lives. Support must filter through all levels of the organisation, which begins with the policies and procedures that define daily interactions.
There’s no one solution that will help to fix or prevent this problem. Organisations must think far-sightedly about this problem and prepare both reactive and proactive approaches to mitigating this risk.
The best organisations build the right structural foundations for an adaptive and flexible support model, which meets the wider change around them while allowing change in its own culture.
Far-sighted thinking will involve wide consultation, so prepare for dialogue among all ages of your workforce. It will involve new ways of thinking about work and what our working environment looks like, so prepare for lots of new ideas, practices and systems. It will involve change, so prepare for resistance.
For more information, please contact Chris Rofe on:
+44 (0)20 7933 2876