Get Your Boss on Your Back

Stephanie Camillo
Washington, DC

The facts

  • Back pain accounts for $50 billion a year in healthcare costs in the U.S.
  • Each year low-back pain disables five million people in the U.S. and results in 93 million lost work days

 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

We all know that there are two things that bosses love:  increased productivity and cost savings.  Back pain can do damage to both of these.  Why?  Because when employees stay healthy, they work more efficiently, stay happier, and take fewer sick days.

You’ve got health insurance and a competitive benefits package so you don’t want to seem too greedy.  But what if getting your boss to part with a little extra dough meant that your boss would save in the long term?  Turns out, it can.

Moji has done the research for you and come up with a number of investments that can easily be implemented in the workplace to help reduce the risk of back pain and promote an active lifestyle among employees.  Whether you work for a small start-up or a massive corporation, getting your boss to part with a little cash can go a long way towards keeping the team up and running.

New chairs

The average desk jockey employee can spend over 2,000 hours in their desk chair each year. And research shows that people who sit down on the job can be more prone to not only back pain but also serious injuries such as disc herniation.    A company need not spend a fortune to get back-friendly chairs that will work better for employees.  In fact, the most important element of the office chair is adjustability.  Adjustable office chairs start at $100, which works out to less than $10 a month per employee, or $0.05 per hour.

If your company can’t afford the fancy ergonomic chairs (upwards of $300 each) then consider kneeling chairs ($110 each) or hop on the bouncy ball bandwagon.  Exercise balls large enough to use as seats start at just $12.  See if your office can purchase three or four and keep them in storage for when people feel the need for a change of seat-ery.

Even cheaper alternative.  If your company really can’t let go of its regular office chairs, try the bum cushions that are sold everywhere.  You can pop one in your car and/or your cubicle to give your tailbone a little bit more support.  For as little as $40 you can be sitting prettier.

Headsets for phones

It’s no secret that back pain is connected to neck pain.  And there’s no faster way to get neck pain than by being on the phone with your head cocked at an odd angle for hours on end.  Have your boss invest in headsets for all employees.  Good headsets can run anywhere from $70-$160, but just think of the extra work you could do with two free hands!  What your boss pays for in equipment is more than made up for in safety, comfort, and productivity (you don’t have to waste time massaging your neck after a long call).

Swap the happy hours for yoga classes

In addition to providing a workout and burning calories, yoga offers a big bang for your buck.  Yoga tackles three problems in one: it reduces stress, it develops strength and flexibility, and it improves mental focus and attitude.  Regular lessons for employees could start at about $18/hour and some yoga studios cost as much as a regular gym membership, but your boss could bring in a yoga teacher to teach employees for a group rate.  Additionally, people might enjoy trying something new in the company of friends and colleagues – after all, the purpose of “happy hours” is to be together.  Why not be together doing something that’s good for you?   You can use group yoga classes as a team building exercise or morale booster, which are investments your company should already be making.

Gym memberships

Engaging in a properly designed fitness regimen can dramatically reduce the risk of back pain and improve back health among employees.  Research suggests that active employees are $391 less expensive than employees who don’t maintain an active lifestyle.  Unfortunately, gym memberships can cost up to $300 per month for an individual.  But there are tons of group and corporate rates available—and within five years your boss can see anywhere from 100% to 300% return on investment.  We are willing to bet that with staff buy-in it might even be possible to have staff contribute internally to gym memberships thereby keeping the boss’s costs really low.

Break out the bikes

Biking can reduce back pain (and strengthens just about every muscle in your back) significantly.  But what if your office isn’t bike-commuter friendly?  Well, it turns out that it’s pretty inexpensive to make it easier for the bike commuters to ride in each day.  And for those who are considering the bike commute for the first time, perhaps some of the perks we suggest are just the push they need to ride in on two wheels.

Offices can provide convenient bike storage spaces for employees who bike to work by using empty wall or storage space for bike racks.  This will save people the trouble of finding outside bike racks and worrying about whether or not rain will rust their bikes.  Mounted bike racks start at about $100.  If there is room to hang pictures in the office, then there is room to mount bikes.  Additionally, there are a number of accessories that go along with biking to work: helmets, shoes, bike clothes, etc.  Mesh or wire storage cubbies are available starting at $20 and can be used to de-clutter workspaces.  The office can also invest in a general-use bike toolbox ($55) and some communal locks ($15/each) that people can use on the honor system.

Space modification

Stretching and relaxing during the course of the day are important to maintaining your focus and keeping your body from building up tension – tension which often leads to low back pain.  People could feel awkward breaking into downward dog or meditating in their cubicle, so why not design a designated space for people to get away from it all without leaving the office?  It just takes a corner, a well-placed screen, and some props (a plant, a candle, a floor cushion) to create a space where people can decompress, stretch, and get back to work without missing a beat.

Dress down the dress code

High-heeled shoes might make your legs look thinner but they can also wreak havoc on your back.  They tilt your pelvis forward and place a lot of added stress on your back muscles.  So it’s time to think about some other options.  Flats – or even lower heels for that matter – will make any intra-office walking you have to do a lot easier on your body.  There are plenty of shoes out there that meet business formal dress codes, don’t break the bank, and are easier on your body.

Flexible scheduling

Many causes of employees’ back pain can be linked to getting to and from their job sites.  Studies indicate that the stress and monotony of long commutes and even the vibrations in cars can all play a role in acute or chronic back pain.  So pitch some new scheduling ideas to your boss.  Chances are they just haven’t thought outside the box.  Later start times, an extra vacation day, or a variation on the government flex schedule that gives people an opportunity to work from home can all decrease commuting monotony without cutting productivity.

Conclusion

With everyone cutting costs due to the tough economic times it can be hard to approach your boss with ideas that ask the company to dish out more money to employees.  But direct and indirect costs for neck and back pain cost U.S. employers over $20 billion in workers compensation.  Think of these pitches as investments that your company can easily implement that will have multiple returns: improved employee satisfaction, reduced sick days, higher morale, and increased productivity.  Anything that improves productivity and pays for itself over time should be an easy sell for your boss.

References:

  1. Causes and Prevention of Back Pain, American College of Sports Medicine, April 2006
Jill Lohmann is a Director of Operations for Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers and a certified physical therapist. Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers is a physical therapist owned and operated rehabilitation company with a network of 170 outpatient rehabilitation centers located throughout the Midwest, Arizona and Georgia.

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