Case study

Supporting musculoskeletal (MSK) health at work

Charity developing its working practices and physical work spaces with emphasis on supporting MSK health.

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Summary

Arthritis Research UK is developing both its working practices and physical work spaces so that they support overall health and wellbeing, with an emphasis on promoting MSK health and supporting people with existing MSK conditions.

Background

Arthritis Research UK invests in breakthrough treatments, the best information and vital support for everyone affected by arthritis. We believe that by harnessing the power of exceptional science we can overcome the pain, isolation and fatigue arthritis causes, making everyday life better for all 10 million people with arthritis in the UK.

The charity is committed to supporting health and wellbeing of all its employees. In particular, it is working to develop and promote good practice in supporting MSK health at work.

What was involved

An essential aspect of the charity’s approach was to involve employees in the development and design of new work practices and to use their feedback to refine and improve it. A fifth of staff contributed through the stakeholder group, with wider engagement through surveys, focus groups and individual discussions. Since its introduction in April 2017, a quarter of the charity’s employees have taken part in the My Healthspan health assessment programme (see below), with an overall satisfaction rating of 84%.

Changes to working practices and physical work spaces include:

Flex ways of working:

MSK conditions often have fluctuating symptoms and can limit people’s mobility. An approach to flexible working has been developed to enable people to work at times and locations that suit them best. Central to this is the development of a culture, including manager training, which supports health and wellbeing through flexibility and inclusion.

Flex working includes the choice of varied working locations and the introduction of core hours to enable people to work and travel at times that meet their needs as well as the needs of the Charity.

Technology is essential to support flex working, with the introduction of IT and communications systems and equipment that facilitate remote working and collaboration across multiple sites.

Working spaces:

The design of physical workspaces are essential in promoting MSK health. Office space has been ergonomically designed to be accessible and inclusive to people with MSK and other physical and mental health conditions and to promote movement. A variety of spaces, and a range of furniture, meet needs and support MSK health. Dedicated wellbeing space supports physical and mental health.

What works well

A range of policies, procedures and communications are used to raise awareness of MSK health and wider wellbeing in the workplace and to promote positive behaviours, including:

  • ‘My healthspan’, an offer of a personalised health assessment and coaching programme for employees with a significant MSK component
  • promotion of movement in office spaces, standing meetings, presentations and active travel, stretching sessions in many training events
  • health promotion posters, with a focus on prevention of MSK conditions and long-term investment in later life health
  • important benefits that promote physical activity including the cycle to work scheme and discounted gym membership

A participant in the My Healthspan programme said:

In addition to now knowing how far I can walk in 6 minutes and that I have a better left-hand grip… I’m also more aware of my health strengths and weaknesses and the impact that stress and a busy day can have. This week I’ve made more of an effort to get out and stretch my legs at lunchtime – the fresh air is brilliant for concentration, it’s good for my MSK health – and I clock up more steps on my activity tracker!

Next steps

Arthritis Research UK is continuing to use feedback from employees to refine its own approach to supporting MSK health at work. We are keen to share our learning and through our policy and influencing activities we are working to promote awareness of the actions employers can take.

Further information

Contact Laura Boothman, Policy manager, l.boothman@arthritisresearchuk.org.

Published 6 December 2017