In an earlier article (“Depression in the workplace – shifting perspective and changing the conversation” – May 2018) I referred to the importance of leadership and case management in preventing and managing depression in the work environment, a prevalent and increasing cause of employee ill-health.

Running alongside depression as another of the most common causes of reduced productivity and employee absenteeism in our current labour market, are musculoskeletal disorders, many of which could be avoided if employers were more invested in the provision of ergonomically sound workstations and processes.

It goes without saying that positive leadership is usually found in workplaces where care for the comfort and well-being of the employees with regard to how they carry out their work each day is paramount, and where value is attached to establishing the optimal interaction between work and the worker. Individual case management – in this context, of the worker and outputs – remains a key ingredient across the board in ensuring employee health, with the additional vital component being that of sound ergonomics.

In spite of the plethora of absenteeism management and wellness programs available to employers, reducing absenteeism related to musculoskeletal disorders is ultimately best managed by a combination of leadership, case management and ergonomics.

Although many employers balk at the initial costs of investing in suitably designed ergonomic workstations and processes, the latter of which might include inexpensive options such as workshops on the prevention of injury, there are good reasons to ensure their presence in the workplace, including the following:

1. It is human nature to respond well to others when feeling cared for, appreciated and recognised. An employee whose health and well-being is treated as a priority is likely to be an employee who is prepared to not only, do their job as efficiently and effectively as possible, but also to go ‘the extra mile’.  The return on investment in the basic human-ness of the provision of sound ergonomics is a good starting point.

2. The combination of feeling cared for and physically comfortable while working creates positive personal energy, from which productivity flows. The exponential impact of positive energy via rubbing off on one another in the work environment is infectious and powerful, further energising the rest of the workforce.

3. An actively engaged workforce in a labour market where a dismal average of only 15% of employees are engaged worldwide[1] creates a competitive edge of note.

4. The energy, sense of recognition and appreciation that emanates from the above-mentioned off-shoots of the investment in ergonomics ultimately creates sustained productivity, with work outputs remaining stable, timeous and effective. An added benefit is that the probability of error is reduced in the presence of personnel who are fully engaged in their working life.

5. The risk of injury and or deterioration caused by age and or musculoskeletal ‘wear and tear’ is significantly reduced when work and worker are able to operate in flow with one another. When the musculature of the body remains aligned, supported and or assisted as is required within the context of each job description there are fewer opportunities for things to go wrong.  And if/when they do go wrong, the damage may be minimised, with a faster recovery time and return to work.

6. An obvious and entirely more quantifiable benefit of investing in sound ergonomics is the avoidance of the negative financial impact of absenteeism due to the development of ill-health, much of which arises from a variety of musculoskeletal disorders. With worker absenteeism running at an estimated 15% on a daily basis in South Africa, at a cost of between R 12 billion and R 16 billion a year[2], it makes little sense to scrimp on the cost the proactive prevention of ill-health and injury only to pay double, triple or more for it at a later date.

Investing in ergonomics requires employers to shift their approach from the reliance on programs that are essentially passive and or reactive methodologies dependent on the employee’s self-investment in wellness following management having received statistics arising from an ‘absentee analysis’, to that of a more proactive nature.  This requires upfront investment in the design of work environments and processes that in themselves encourage and enhance well-being; reduced absenteeism and increase productivity.

[1] Gallup Surveys

[2] Occupational Care South Africa and Statistics South Africa