The No.1 Strategy to Resolving Musculoskeletal Disorders
the No. 1 Strategy to resolving musculoskeletal disorder in the workplace
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If I were to ask:

“What’s your #1 strategy to resolving musculoskeletal disorders in your workplace?”

What would you say? 

Ergonomic Risk Assessment? 

Return to work interviews? 

Employee training? 

Involving occupational health teams? 

Health and Wellbeing programmes?

Health and Safety?

They are all amazing tools and they would indeed help. But the secret to being successful at managing musculoskeletal disorder is simpler than you think. 

The first step you need to be any good at managing it is by engaging your employees.

Yes for sure!

I’m not talking about motivating your employees. Making them happy. Having a 360-degree feedback. Or training them. It’s much more than that.

Let me elaborate.

In the first few years of my career as a Physiotherapist, I was a good enough clinician. Bear in mind that my job was to assess and treat musculoskeletal disorders. I saw patients, treated them and sent them on their way. I was good (I hope I was) but was no different from any other Physio in my team. No patient requested I treat them. I didn’t stand apart. I was not memorable. 

Then I had a Eureka moment!

My practise changed. My patients started recommending me. New patients requested I saw them. Some even insisted. Others were happy to travel further to see me.

But check this out.

My physio skills hadn’t changed much. 

Nothing had changed other than my ability to engage with them. I got personal. I spoke it to them like I would speak to a friend. I listened. Paid attention. We laughed, I empathised, I got them to believe in me. To believe in my ability to make them better. To take them through the journey of pain to health. And trust me when I say, sometimes, that journey was tough, rough and excruciating. 

But we became a team. It was no more, 

‘’I can make you better’’ but 

‘’Let’s work together to get you better’’.

We set goals together. I played a part and they had to fulfil their part. For example, consistent with their exercise programme. Correct a bad habit or posture. If they needed help, I tweaked their programme. They listened because they trusted I cared. I wanted them better. It wasn’t for the fame and fortune. (whaaat!)

Employees Engagement is Key to Resolving Musculoskeletal Disorders

employee engagement thge key to resolving musculoskeletal disorders
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Resolving musculoskeletal disorders require you to interact and involve your staff. You need to captivate, hook and reel in your team. Listen to them, hear their suggestion, their pain complaint. Get personal, know when it’s painful. Know how it may affects their home lives and family.

It might mean forgetting all the management approaches you know. Or the tick-box exercise used for decades. It might mean side-stepping the mundane trainings or ‘it’s-always-been-done-this-way’ methods.

To resolve work-related musculoskeletal disorders, you must get rough and dirty. You must get in there. Get them involved.

Involved in decision making. Involved in making suggestions that would improve their working lives. Encourage them to report injuries, accidents and incidents without fear of blame. Get to know how best they learn. What tools they prefer. And why they prefer them. How they like to work. Who they are. Begin to connect the dots. Get them to trust you, so you can help.

The Neuroscience behind Engagement 

The Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD) defined employee engagement as;

A combination of commitment to the organisation and its values, plus a willingness to help out colleagues. It goes beyond job satisfaction and is not simply motivation. 

Engagement is something the employee has to offer; it cannot be ‘required’ as part of the employment contract’. 

Another definition:

‘A heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organisation, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work. (Conference Board 2006. Employee engagement, A review of current research and its implications. New York).

Engagement is a mutual emotional connection, like you would have for a friend or someone you like. And like any relationship, it’s give and take. It’s not forced.

How does employee engagement happen?

Dr Evian Gordon, a neuroscientist, proposed that engagement is closely linked to the principle of the brain to maximize reward and minimize danger.

In simple terms, if your staff believe they are listened to, allowed to solve problem and given work autonomy, be creative and make suggestions. Then they activate the  reward function of their brains. 

They become engaged.

But, fear, sadness, lack of safety or anxiety activates the threat function. 

That leads to disengagement. 

If they can’t emotionally connect. It doesn’t matter how much training, health activities or assessments you conduct.  You would never resolve or manage work-related musculoskeletal disorders better. 

Cost of Employees Disengagement on Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders

  • They close ranks. 
  • Wouldn’t trust you nor the organisation. 
  • Nor report injuries. 
  • Wouldn’t walk up to you or your team and make you aware of musculoskeletal disorder risks. 
  • Never make suggestions that might resolve those difficult job tasks. 
  • Nor know why they are not returning to work. 
  • You wouldn’t even know they’re injured until they go off-sick. 
  • You wouldn’t know why they’re leaving for another job.
  •  Injury rates would still be high. 
  • Sickness absence cost would keep soaring.
  • Error rate would never plummet. 
  • You would lose time on productivity. 
  • Waste resources on equipment or workstation modifications that never work. 
  • Pay out for overtime, temporary staff cover and administration.

Fear of Involving and Engaging Employees

‘’But what if they ask for more than we can give?’’

You don’t give your children everything they ask for, do you? I’m not saying they are children. Of course not! 

But even with our kids that we love dearly, we don’t hand them everything they want. But we don’t shut them down by saying we can’t always afford it, either. Yes, money is a factor but it’s not the only factor. They might be too young; you wouldn’t buy them a car at age 10. It might not be good for them. Candy every day?! They are so many reasons.

Same with work. Workers don’t want to go home with injuries. They just want to improve their working conditions. They might think having all the bells and whistles is the only way. But that’s where discussing and getting them involved is important. You win them over, if they have a say. 

But they are so many issues, we don’t know where to begin.

Start simple with what you know. Start with the ones you can resolve. Small wins. Little ripples. Get them involved. It would surprise you how much they know and can help. Of course, it might take a while for them to trust you. But if you keep showing up. Keep discussing. Keep cajoling them to report injuries. Eventually, changes would begin to happen.

“Remember, culture is not built in a day.”

Resolving Musculoskeletal Disorders Starts with Early Reporting 

Your employees have a huge role to play to reducing the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorder. Don’t think you can do it all by yourself. Or think you don’t have or would never have the knowledge or skill. Begin with what you know. Start with the arsenal you have.

Your employees.

Make it easy for them to report musculoskeletal injuries. Let them be your eyes and ears on spotting its risks. Reward them by finding solutions to their pain or complaint. The more you respond to them, the quicker they report injuries. 

To get you started why don’t you grab a FREE copy of my ‘Report MSD Now’ Poster’ below. Put it up everywhere. Office. Shop floor. Staff room. Toilet. By the coffee maker. Let them see it. Then resolving musculoskeletal disorder becomes a stroll in the park.

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By Ugo Akpala-Alimi

Ugo is a Workplace Musculoskeletal Health Expert. She is a Chartered Physiotherapist with a masters degree in Ergonomics. 15+ years' experience. Treated 9,000+ patients. Conducted work assessments++. Worked with companies including BP, UKPN. On a mission to help managers reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders and create 'ouchless' workplaces. Hasn't yet gotten the magic elixir for injury-resistant workers (still busy concocting).

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