Lockdowns have created ‘ergonomic timebomb’


Lockdowns have created an ‘ergonomic timebomb’ of musculoskeletal injuries and pain, especially among remote workers, according to a study.

A report published by health insurer Vitality in partnership with the RSA’s Future of Work programme has found that home working and lockdowns have reinforced sedentary lifestyles and led to a 28% reduction in physical activity.

Seven in 10 remote workers reported more aches and pains in the back, neck, shoulders and joints, and many experience headaches and eye strain.

The ‘Hybrid – a blueprint for business’ report states that 45% of workers were spending more time at their workstation and 13% were relying on higher levels of self-medication.

Despite this, 57% of home workers exercised regularly and 51% felt that the switch to home working has made it easier to maintain physical fitness levels, its survey of  1,062 remote workers found.

The report says: “The opportunity for managers and leaders now is to harness that flexibility, in pursuit of a genuinely healthy approach to hybrid working. To tackle the ergonomic timebomb, this will require new policies that create safer working environments.

“But, at a very basic level, managers also need to allow their employees the chance to manage their working time flexibly, both in terms of promoting the idea that exercise and physical activity can be pursued at any time during ‘ordinary’ working hours, and by protecting space in diaries and time management processes so that people can pursue healthy lifestyles.”

Recommendations for organisations looking to adopt a hybrid working approach include:

  • Establishing new mandates on health and wellbeing that are integrated into company risk registers and prioritised at board level
  • Practising, reinforcing, and normalising “healthy hybrid” behaviours
  • Creating feedback loops between employees and leaders
  • Promoting inclusive productivity gains by assessing performance based on outcomes not hours
  • Introducing mandatory breaks and “right to disconnect” policies to protect hybrid workers from burnout and level-up inequalities
  • Ensuring new health and wellbeing policies are inclusive across all work environments and focus on workers not workplaces
  • Scheduling 30 minutes a day for all employees to protect musculoskeletal health
  • Clarifying who is accountable for new health and wellbeing mandates, and reflecting this in management training.
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