HR too often ends up being “work mother,” but it might be time to start telling your team to sit up straight – it could save their health.
Muscular-skeletal disorders are one of the biggest causes of work absences and both short and long term disability. Workplace ergonomics have long been recognized as a way to reduce the impact of these disorders, but what role does workplace posture play overall?
Research shows that seated posture, as well as posture while getting into or out of a chair, is important for a healthy back and joints. It’s common when sitting at a computer for a long time for workers to slump their shoulders or lounge back in their chair. However, this is causing serious and pervasive back and neck problems.
For employees who work standing up, good posture is more than just standing with the shoulders thrown back. More important is maintaining good alignment, with ears over the shoulders, shoulders over hips, and hips over the knees and ankles. Body weight should be distributed evenly between the feet.
One of the most common posture problems, called kyphosis, is a direct result of spending too much time in front of a computer, experts say. The shoulders hunch forward, the pectoral muscles in the chest tighten, the neck and head extend toward the computer screen, and the spine is no longer vertically aligned.
Many deskbound office workers have started standing and walking in this position, too, said Andrea Cheville, a rehabilitation physician at the Mayo Clinic.
To counteract kyphosis, it is important to stretch the pectoral muscles and strengthen the trapezius muscles in the upper back, which hold the shoulder blades back, Cheville said.
Improving these muscles and posture overall reduces the risk of repetitive strain injuries as well as the back and neck problems that plague many office workers. What’s more, employees take bad habits home with them, exacerbating existing conditions and affecting long-term health.
Making small ergonomic changes such as ensuring employees’ have their computer screen at eye-height and a box to rest their feet on if needed, or that standing workers are in an environment that encourages good posture such as not needing to stoop to complete tasks, can go a long way to healthier employees and reduced disability costs.