Why work can be a real pain in the neck: Five ways to promote exercise in your business

Office workers are in pain – and businesses need to do more to help them.

At least, that's the finding of a new report published in the new edition of Work: A Journal Of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation, which found "a direct correlation" between the time spent at a computer and the likelihood of experiencing musculoskeletal pain.

The problem of office workers experiencing this type of pain is nothing new, but this is yet another report outlining how businesses need to introduce OHS practices into their workplace to avoid this type of problem.

The University of Sydney research surveyed more than 900 office workers and found 85% who spent more than eight hours a day working with a computer experienced neck pain, 74% experienced shoulder pain and 70% reported lower back pain.

Lead research author Karin Griffiths said given changes in office culture over the past few decades, things like better ergonomic design for seating haven't helped.

"In fact, recent research shows that prolonged sitting and the lack of physical activity associated with computer work is the main problem, and may be contributing to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity along with musculoskeletal pain," she said.

Executives and professional workers were the most affected.

"Anyone who works in an office knows that whatever your occupation and level of seniority, you're likely to be spending long hours every day at a computer."

The challenge is changing workplace design so users are forced to get up and move around. That can mean mixing up sitting workstations with standing workstations, and encouraging people to take breaks away from their desks.

"Offices need to be designed to stimulate physical activity among employees. We need to start including standing workstations and encourage more standing and walking within offices as a matter of course for everyone who uses a computer for most of their day," Griffiths says.

Businesses need to make sure they keep their employees fit and healthy – and that includes workplace exercises.

Here a few you can implement in your own business:

1. Mix up sitting and standing workstations

This may not work for every business, but you should at least encourage it. If there is any point at all where employees can stand up rather than sit down, you should be encouraging it.

This can include meetings as well. Leadership experts often say standing up is a great way to get a meeting underway. Not only will everyone get a little more exercise, but the agenda will certainly move quicker.

2. Create a lunch room environment

There's a reason why companies like Google have large rooms where employees can eat lunch together. It promotes community among staff and, also, exercise. If staff have to leave their desk to prepare and eat lunch, they're moving around, stimulating blood flow which will also help with their productivity.

3. Stand up and stretch

Having your staff stand up and stretch at certain intervals may seem corny and annoying, but it will allow employees to not only have a quick break but avoid those nasty musculoskeletal problems this study is warning about.

4. Sit on some balls

Exercise balls can serve as great seats instead of normal chairs – and they promote good posture too.

5. Invest in some headsets

Private Media chief executive and SmartCompany founder Amanda Gome is well known for her love of headsets, and there's a good reason why – they help avoid neck and back pain. If you're on the phone a lot, and propping the headset up with your shoulder, you are no doubt causing pain to your neck muscles.

Give your employees some phone headsets and they'll be happier and healthier.