A report by HR Zone in 20220 found employees lost almost 15% of working hours to absenteeism or presenteeism, totalling 38 days per employee per year. As a result of knowledge like this employers are putting increased focus on initiatives such as:
- Employee assistance programmes so employees can access counselling should they need it.
- Creating a positive working environment by actively encouraging diversity and inclusion.
- Introducing flexible working so employees can improve their work life balance.
- Providing mentoring to enable employees reach their potential.
The importance of ergonomics
As people departments manage the complex wellbeing needs of an organisation, it is easy to overlook the importance of physical wellbeing particularly as many offices around the world make the move to hybrid working. Physical wellbeing and ergonomics still matter. Research by the European Foundation for the improvement of living and working conditions found working remotely with a poor ergonomic setup puts employees at greater risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders which can negatively impact productivity and result in increased absenteeism.
Businesses have a duty of care to employees when they are working remotely as well as in the office. As offices adapt to incorporate remote working employees may not have the same workstation set up they did previously.
What are the ergonomic risks of working remotely?
Working remotely makes it more difficult for HR departments and management to control an employee's environment. If an employee is working from home there are multiple potential ergonomic risks including:
When working from home or another remote location employees may not have space or equipment to replicate the office environment. Working from unorthodox locations like dining tables or sofas is likely to lead to poor posture which over time could lead to injury.
Employees in an office are likely to have access to risers for monitors, foot rests, and similar ergonomic aids they will not have in their home or remote office. Working without these devices or using improvised versions is likely to impact an employee’s health and wellbeing.
Although an employee may have acquired or been provided with a monitor or an ergonomic mouse/keyboard, they may not have access to the full suite of equipment that they would in the office.
Easily overlooked, having sufficient lighting plays an important role in the ergonomic wellbeing of an employee. Working in poorly lit environments can lead to eye strain and headaches.
For many people the commute to work involves walking, cycling or getting public transport. During the working day employees walked to and from meeting rooms and from floor to floor in larger offices. Much of this incidental movement is eradicated when working from home and conducting meetings virtually.
Ergonomic assistance in the hybrid workplace
Help employees in your business maintain an ergonomically correct workstation whether they are working remotely or while in the office by:
1. Providing ergonomic equipment
Once your business has decided that hybrid working is something you are going to continue, it is worth discussing what is possible in terms of providing employees with access to ergonomic furniture and similar aids. What this looks like is going to vary by business, but some ideas include:
- Allow employees to use unneeded furniture from the office
- Issue employees with a standard home desk/chair
- Provide a voucher scheme so employees can buy equipment for a discounted rate
2. Employee training in ergonomics
Help employees recognise and control the ergonomic hazards they may face while working remotely through ergonomic training. It should provide practical guidance for all employees to ensure they create the safest environment possible for themselves whether working remotely or in the office.
3. Develop ergonomic check sheet
Encourage every employee to complete an ergonomic check sheet on their remote working space. This should help to identify where the challenges lie and enable HR and leadership teams to address them on a more cohesive basis.
4. Encourage employees without suitable workspace to work from the office more
Hybrid working may not work for everyone. Some employees may be more productive from the office or may not have a suitable space to work remotely from. Encourage and welcome these employees to work from the office as often as they can. The overall goal of hybrid working is to facilitate flexibility in whatever form that takes.
5. Encourage employees to move
Movement is a key element when it comes to productivity, even for office-based employees. Although there are no hard and fast rules for how often people move during the working day, it is suggested that office employees should take a 5 minute break from the screen every hour and try to walk around.
Employees should look away from the screen more often than that. One of the difficulties of the digital first world is eye strain caused by focusing on a screen for two long. An optician recommended way to ease eye strain is using the 20-20-20 method. Encourage employees to look away from their screen every 20 min, for 20 seconds and focus on something 20 feet away. This allows their eyes to completely relax.
These are just some of the ways your business can help office-based employees to prioritise the environment they work in and improve physical wellbeing.
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