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Why I Used to Laugh at the Idea of Company Wellness Programmes. And Why I'm Not Laughing Now

When I first heard about companies offering wellness programmes to employees a few years ago, I think I remember audibly chuckling. Or maybe it was as loud as a derisive snort? To me it seemed like companies were infantilising their employees. “Aww did the employee graze his knee? Don’t cry, HR will give you a lollipop!” Isn’t this the corporate version of the ‘nanny state’? Come on HR, you are employing your workforce, not parenting them!

I was musing the irony of these thoughts last month as I was lying face down on a massage bench, while a brick-shaped Canadian therapist was putting all of his weight into the back of my neck. As each pulse of pain went shooting its merry way up into my skull, I could feel my position on corporate wellness being massaged from contempt (OUCH!) to opposition (ow!) to agnosticism (hmm) to sympathy (ah…) until I found myself reaching the nirvana of full conversion. And relax.

You see I had woken up one morning with a trapped nerve in my neck, totally unable to move the slightest increment without whimpering in agony. And my massage therapist says that he treats many people who are employed in remote working environments, because they spend most of their time working on laptops. The ideal seating position for working with computers is to have your arms typing on the keyboard on one horizontal plane, with your screen at eye level so that your head is looking forward on a parallel plane. You can’t do both on a laptop. Either you need to put your keyboard on your desk and hunch your neck to look downwards, or you need to put your laptop on a stack of telephone directories (do these still exist?) and raise your arms like you’re about to perform an Olympic dive. Most of us choose the less undignified first option, but in either scenario, you’re setting yourself up for some long-term neck and shoulder problems.

The thing is, we all know stuff like this! But how many of us choose to ignore it , thinking that it’s not something to worry about? “I eat well, I exercise a moderate amount, I have a balanced and flexible lifestyle, I’ll be fine.” But it’s exactly this flexibility that might be the cause of your future inflexibility. More companies are providing increased flexibility options for employees, with hot-desking becoming prevalent in the workplace, along with greater encouragement to work from home. So the risk of these injuries is only going to go up, with more productivity hours lost due to preventable injuries. And the next time you bump into someone on the street who isn’t paying attention because they are looking down at their smartphone… take a look at that person’s neck posture. And imagine how many hours you see your son, your daughter, or your Gen X/Gen Y employees doing the same thing. I’m looking into my tea leaves, and I’m seeing the outline of a brick-shaped Canadian massage therapist.

Preventable injuries. Loss of productivity hours. Yes HR Leaders, it’s time to put on your parenting hats and incorporate wellness into your HR strategy.

As for me, I’m fine. It took a few sessions with Brett to get me back to normal, and in the intervening two weeks I had a fun time scaring fellow pedestrians as I swung my whole body left and right before crossing roads. Please let this be a lesson to all HR Leaders to think of wellness in the workplace. And if you’re a long-term laptop user… go buy yourself an external keyboard and mouse.

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