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Back pain 'presentees' bad news for business

Experts warn of damage to productivity as 1 in 4 businesses admit their employees commit bad back ‘presenteeism.’

A massive 84 per cent of 18-24 year olds have admitted to suffering some incidence of back pain in the last 12 months*, according to research carried out by Simplyhealth. But whilst colds and flu  will have workers signed off for a day or two of bed rest, a quarter of companies say their employees often brave the office with a bad back, contributing to a worrying trend of ‘presenteeism**’.

Whilst employees who come into work no matter what may seem like a positive asset for any employer, ‘presenteeism’ has a potentially damaging effect on organisations’ effectiveness and productivity as well as the associated negative effects on the individual. Ill employees are not only less productive, but take longer to recover, can make costly mistakes and negatively affect their organisation’s reputation. It has also become increasingly clear in recent years that ‘presenteeism’ is a sign of anxiety and may have longer-term consequences if not addressed.
Helen Dickinson, People Director at Simplyhealth

A survey of 3,000 adults, from Simplyhealth, the UKs biggest health cash plan provider, shows a workforce on the point of a potential back pain epidemic fuelled by rising use of new, hand-held technology and a decline in the awareness of good posture and its role in pain prevention.

Almost all age groups surveyed spend as much time in front of a PC, laptop or tablet screen in total as they do asleep in bed. Some even more so. Two thirds (67 per cent) of 18-24 year olds also agree that they either slouch or hunch in front of their PC or other devices at work and almost half of this age group replicate this at home (49 per cent).   Experts are warning that this new ‘iPosture generation’ are developing bad habits that could lead to worrying increases in workplace back pain problems across the nation’s workforce in the coming years as well as lost productivity unless action is taken now to combat it. Jean Broke Smith, etiquette and deportment expert believes the time is ripe to resurrect and promote good old-fashioned advice to people to sit-up straight and look after their posture whether at home or at work.

Simplyhealth have therefore commissioned a short video to accompany its new Back Care app which features Jean Broke-Smith, demonstrating the basics of good posture that was commonly taught up to the 1950s and 60s.

“Although it has been decades since people learned good posture at finishing schools, it has tremendous potential to help younger people avoid the risk of back pain associated with the changing use of technology at home and in the workplace. Simply being aware you are slouching or hunching over your tablet or smartphone is half the battle. The other half is to counter this bad habit and the potential pain it can generate by always sitting up with a straight back with your device comfortably on your lap or at a reasonable height in front of you.
Jean-Broke Smith

For those wanting to educate employees on the benefits of good posture for managing back pain at work, Jean Broke Smith has provided the following tips, as well as a free to download and distribute educational video on posture.

  1. Walk tall with confidence. Imagine you are a puppet on strings. Shoulders pulled back and slightly leaning back - no hunching forward. Breathing becomes easier as your lungs expand
  2. When standing, tuck your bottom under and move hips forward , making sure the spine is straight, shoulders still pulled back and head and chin lifted up and neck extended
  3. Keep your stride lengths between heel and toe half the length of your own foot. Any longer will jar the back and will make weight drop forward which is not good for correct posture
  4. When sitting, push the base of the spine well into the chair back, no crossed legs when sitting as it’s terribly bad for the back and encourages varicose veins. Legs positioned parallel at the side with one foot behind the other. Bring the legs together and place one foot behind and rise gently using the back leg to control balance
  5. When in an office environment it is necessary for good posture and backache prevention to sit at the same level as your keyboard if using a computer or for any other reason. You should be able comfortably to put out your hands at right angles to your body and "cover" the keys. You should not have to reach down or up to the keyboard. Sit with the base of spine into the chair back make sure you have the correct chair posture, many office swivel upholstered chairs are unsuitable

To support individuals with back pain and those wanting to prevent it, the app developed by Simplyhealth and BackCare is free to download and allows users to input data on the type and location of their back pain to generate daily tailored advice as well as details of specialist advice and support available locally. There are also exercises and information available for individuals to do when at home and in the workplace to help look after their backs.

We hope that our new app will help people find the best advice and the most effective intervention for their pain. Every time someone downloads the app from the App store or Google PlayTM we will donate £1 to BackCare*** to help them fund further research into the causes, prevention and management of back pain.
Clare Lee from Simplyhealth

* CIPD Absence Management Survey 2013

** (average of 6.74 days for 18-24 year olds versus 5.12 for 45 to 54 year olds).

*** Up to £120,000