More than 60% of your people are in pain – here’s why

3 minute read
Conversations around employee wellbeing have focused, rightly, on mental health in the past couple of years. But a new report shows that musculoskeletal pain affects nearly 60% of professionals. Here's what HR can do about it

More than 60% of your people are in pain - back pain

As an HR professional or people manager, you’re always looking out for the wellbeing of your people. You know it’s the right thing to do and you know it makes business sense: happy employees are more productive.

But one key pillar of wellbeing is not getting the attention it deserves. We’re all talking about important subjects like mental health – and rightly so – but let’s not forget there are other areas of health that we must focus on too.

I’m talking about musculoskeletal pain – commonly referred to as MSK pain – and our latest report has shone a light on just how widespread this issue is.

This year the team and I at Champion Health released The Workplace Health Report: 2022 – the first report of its kind that reveals the state of our employees health.

Our findings show that while there are a variety of issues affecting our employees' health and performance  MSK pain is widespread.

In fact, the report revealed that nearly 60% of professionals are currently experiencing MSK pain.

This debilitating pain must be tackled by employers if they want to increase wellbeing, productivity and promote a culture of high performance. These goals simply cannot be achieved without a focus on supporting those facing MSK pain challenges.

In this article you’ll discover more key findings from our report, as well as some actionable steps you can take to support your people.

60% of employees are suffering

MSK pain means pain in our muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons and even nerves. It has far reaching consequences beyond these areas too and can have a knock-on effect on all areas of wellbeing, from sleep quality to mental health.

As I mentioned above, 60% of professionals reported that they suffer from MSK pain. The report also reveals that this pain is most common in their lower backs, necks and knees.

muscolo skeletal pain in employees

The data reveals a reluctance among staff to seek help when they need it; of the 60% suffering from MSK pain 59% of those have not seen a specialist. Worryingly, this suggests our people are “pushing through the pain” and unlikely to see an improvement in their conditions.

What’s more, when it comes to alleviating MSK pain, we can reveal that there’s a clear business case for the boardroom too. One in five also reported that MSK pain is having a direct impact on their performance at work (as you might expect).

I believe the onus is now firmly on organisations and their people. If you want to reap the benefits of more productive staff, you must play a more proactive role when it comes to managing MSK pain.

Hybrid and home workers

Let’s face it, the world of work has changed and many of our roles will be remote or hybrid going forwards. That’s why ensuring employees stay well when working outside  the office must be a priority.

However, our data shows that these professionals are more likely to suffer, with 70% of those suffering from MSK pain identifying as hybrid or home workers.

The most common locations of MSK pain (lower-back, neck and knees) suggest a prevalence of poor home working desk set-ups

Taking a stand

The Workplace Health Report: 2022 also reveals a link between poor MSK health and time spent sedentary.

Our data shows that professionals are sitting for 11 hours each day, two hours longer than the UK average.

Even worse, fewer than one in five report that they break their sitting periods at the frequency recommended by the NHS (every 30 minutes). Instead, over 40% only break their sitting periods every two hours or longer.

Sedentary causes of muscolo skeletal pain

While it may sound trivial, long sedentary periods constitute a risk for businesses. According to the Journal of Occupational Health, alongside increasing the risk of MSK pain time spent sedentary is also associated with impaired work performance and reduced productivity.

What can HR do about it?

Our data paints a worrying picture: most employees are suffering from MSK pain, and to make matters worse, the majority are not seeking support.

So, what can you do about it? Luckily, most MSK health issues can be managed successfully when treated early on through proactive initiatives. In doing so you’ll give your employees a better quality of life, while you gain more productive people.

Firstly, I encourage every HR professional, leader or people manager to start talking about MSK health at work. Promote the services that your organisation offers (whether that’s health insurance or allowances for home working equipment).

Next, encourage (or mandate) your line managers to check in with their direct reports to ensure that they are not in pain (and to seek support if they are in pain). And finally get your leaders to lead the way. Ask them to get involved, share their stories and highlight what the organisation can do to help. 

To cut down on long sedentary periods, make employees aware of how long they should be sitting each day, and why it’s important to get moving.

Simple actions can facilitate this organisational shift. For example, I encourage my team to dial into internal calls while they’re out walking, giving them a chance to stretch their legs without fear of judgement for not being at their desk. I also look to end internal meetings five minutes before the hour or half-hour, to encourage a movement break between calls.

You should also consider how much harder it can be to spot the employees who are suffering when they are working from home. So, I encourage HR professionals to assess the workspaces of home/hybrid employees, making sure they are suitable and safe.

You’re not going to find all the answers in this article, but there’s a wealth of information out there that you can utilise to support your employees' MSK health.

Now that you understand how widespread these issues are, and what the risks are, it’s time to turn that awareness into action.

Harry Bliss, pictured below, is the CEO and co-founder of Champion Health

Harry Bliss Champion Health

Published 2 March 2022
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