Your Workstation: Five Ways To Boost Productivity & Reduce Health-Related Workplace Absenteeism

workstation ergonomics

Every year in Hong Kong, every employee loses approximately 77 days of productivity due to health-related absenteeism, meaning failing to attend work, and presenteeism, meaning working while sick, which has been associated with productivity loss.

Whether you’re an employee or an employer, these numbers are large red flags indicating a significant burden. Organisations are estimated to be losing HK$3.74 million each month, while employees are taking a massive toll on both their physical and mental health with reverberating effects on workplace morale, staff turnover, communication, conflict at work - and more.

Your workstation setup is one seemingly small yet incredibly powerful area that we’ve seen to be the painful downfall of many staff in today’s hybrid working environment between the home office and the workplace. Good workstation ergonomics paired with simple in-chair exercises are simple to implement, and we’ve repeatedly seen the change to a body-friendly work environment reduce pain, improve mood, assist productivity and help reduce absenteeism.

Today our physios have shared five tips to promote your health and wellbeing at work, as small snippets from our extensive Workplace Health & Wellbeing Programs.

1. Screen Position

Many of us work with multiple screens, and we determine their placement based on what fits in best between the desktop monitors and the laptop instead of what’s best for our bodies. When our monitors are too low or high, it can strain our neck, shoulders and back.
Tip: Sit your monitor so that your eyes are in line with a point in the screen that is 5-10cm below the top edge of the monitor. This will help prevent you from looking too far up or down at your screen, excessively tilting your head upwards or craning your neck downwards. Also make sure you’re not having to tilt your body to see your screen, avoiding glare from the screen, and keeping your screen a distance of 50cm-100cm from your eyes - about an arm’s length.

2. Neck Exercises & Forearm Support

Neck pain, which diminishes productivity at work, has shown to affect as much as 82% of office workers. Neck pain most often occurs as a result of prolonged sitting, slouching and looking down. These movements compress the joints and strain the muscles at the neck, often being the starting point of ongoing pain.

To prevent and manage neck pain, individually prescribed and progressive neck exercise programs, completed for just twenty minutes three times per week, have shown great long-term results, including reducing the monetary value of productivity loss, and lower levels of pain and absenteeism 12 months after starting the program. This makes it a valuable long-term investment for both employees and organisations.

Tip: To get the most out of your neck exercises, they should be prescribed on a case-by-case basis by your physio after a comprehensive assessment. As for something you can do right now to help with neck pain? Make sure your forearms are parallel to your desk. Specifically, have your laptop or keyboard close to your body so that your elbows are at 90-100º. This has been associated with a reduction of strain on the muscles at the neck and shoulders, meaning less fatigue and tension.

3. Use Your Standing Desk Wisely

After hearing the negative health implications of sitting for too long at work all day, a standing desk may seem like the perfectly healthy and productive answer. Surprisingly, this is only the case when you use it ergonomically, as standing for long periods can have negative consequences. Just look at the strong associations between lower back pain and occupations that involve a lot of natural standing like bank tellers.
Tip: Improve your ergonomics by:
  • Standing for at least 2 hours per day cumulatively, optimally 4 hours per day
  • Alternating regularly (eg 30-60 minutes) between sitting and standing is key
  • Move your neck left, right, up and down hourly to reduce stiffness
  • Wear comfortable shoes (not high heels)

4. Take Regular Breaks - Seriously

We’re going to emphasise this one because it’s not uncommon to think you know the true benefits of breaks, without actually knowing them. Taking a break and a short walk or stretch at least every hour isn’t just doing your muscles and circulation a world of good, or reducing your injury risk from repetitive overuse injuries as simple as typing. It’s also doing wonderful things for your mental health, too.
Tip: Incorporate “virtual travelling time” in your schedule to give yourself a break between meetings. This will allow time to move/stretch and prepare you mentally for the next meeting. Employees that take regular breaks stay more productive and engaged, perform better, and very importantly, display reduced absenteeism and presenteeism.

5. Treat Pains Without Delay

Implementing ergonomic changes to the workstation or workday have shown no clear productivity benefit for office workers that already have pain. Efficient workplace ergonomics don’t work to repair injuries or strengthen weakened muscles as a result of the injury, though they may help to prevent the injury from progressing like it would with inefficient posture and movement.
Tip: The best way to maximise the benefits from optimised working efficiency is to be prompt in treating pains and problems as they arise and while they are still mild, before they have a chance to worsen and lead to time off work. Research shows that early access to physiotherapy for conditions like low back pain can have better results and greater improvement in aspects like perceived pain at 6 months compared to later access, as well as reducing the cost per episode of low back pain.

The Power Of Workplace Health & Wellbeing Assessments

We work extensively with a range of organisations across Hong Kong to promote their employees’ health and wellbeing while improving productivity and absenteeism outcomes for the organisation. Clients that trust us with the wellbeing of their high performing teams include ABN Amro, AIA, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Hong Kong Ballet, JP Morgan and KPMG. By implementing our workplace plans and learning about the true power and impact of workplace health and wellbeing, our clients are reaping benefits including:
  • Improved job satisfaction
  • Increased staff retention
  • Improved productivity
  • Improved positive health behaviours amongst staff
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Reduced healthcare costs
  • Reduced health risks

PhysioCentral offers onsite workplace health and wellbeing assessments, as well as individual health and wellbeing assessments at our clinics for those wanting tailored advice and care, or that are solo business owners or entrepreneurs.

Book your appointment online or call us on +852 2801.4801