Blog - Is technology really creating health issues – or is it us?

I recently rejoined Business Network International (BNI), a network referral group, after a gap of about eight years. When I was a member previously – for about four years – I would get a smattering of referrals (potential leads), but left after deciding that I was failing to reach my target market. Looking back, I remember at the time thinking that there was not much understanding about the importance of keeping healthy in the workplace, and now, when I look at where today’s thinking is still believe that this was the case.

Fast forward to 2017 and the responses to the information I share in a BNI meeting are a very different kettle of fish. So, comparing the two experiences, what has changed, and why does it matter? Two rows of people facing each other looking at computer screens

  • Probably the biggest change is the significant increase in use of technology for almost everyone; whether it’s sitting in front of a computer screen for longer hours while you work, using a tablet to conduct onsite assessments, your phone to connect with colleagues, update your social media, book your holiday, or look up directions to the restaurant that you’re going to is located … and so on.
  • The length of time we spend using technology has also increased. About 10 years ago, statistics from the UK showed that on average, people used computers for 5 hours 40 minutes per day. Today, in my experience, it seems many of us are using a computer, or some sort of mobile device, for 6.5 – 7 hours per day.
  • ‘Paperless offices’ have reduced the need for people to get up and go to the printer, meetings are held via Skype, so there’s less moving to the board room, and we’ve even got in the habit of sending emails to people in the same office, rather than walking down the hallway or up a floor to talk to someone.
  • A couple of years ago, in New Zealand, the Health and Safety Act 2015 came in with much fanfare about heavier fines for employers and managers who failed to provide a higher awareness of generally health and safety, or adequately train staff in safe work practices. In reality, the same requirements already existed, but with the increase in the dollar amount of fines, the awareness has grown!
  • There’s a greater awareness of workplace wellness. These days, it’s not such a left field idea to have a workplace which provides healthy initiatives like fruit bowls, yoga and Pilates sessions at lunchtime and even community help days for the whole organisation.

Why does this matter?

Various overseas studies show a connection between the use of computers, plus long periods are sitting to some neck, shoulder, and upper-limb discomfort, such as tennis elbow and lower back pain. As with most things related to workplace pain and discomfort arising from computer use, there can be a combination of factors that cause these issues.

Generally it is recommended that applying the general principles of ergonomics to computer work is probably the correct strategy to pursue, with the aim of maintaining office workers’ well-being.

From my observation specialising in this area for the past 22 years, musculoskeletal discomfort is rife, with our higher pressure of life, often reduced work/life balance, and expectations of rapid responses to requests, all adding up to increased stress, and increased muscle tension.

When I talk with clients who are experiencing discomfort with computer use, their issues usually increase with higher or more intensive periods of computer use. Remove the computer and the problem goes away.

Posture matters too

There are definitely situations when people develop discomfort due to awkward positions, such as holding a mobile phone for hours, looking down on a screen that is too low, or sitting in a chair which is too small. These types of issues can all be helped with having a health professional assessing your workplace and suggesting some changes to overcome these issues. Changing behaviour is one of the main keys to getting rid of pain issues.

It’s the little things

Two women talking as they walk down a footpath in a parkOverall, it seems to boil down to encouraging people in your workplace to take regular breaks from the computer. This can be done easily by walking away once an hour to get a glass of water or fill up the water bottle, getting outside for your lunch break, and for this to be the norm in a workplace, creating a healthy culture.

It is very encouraging to see an increased awareness in the importance of workplace health and wellness – it’s been a while coming, but let’s keep going with these positive moves forward!