Employer – take action

Include early support and necessary work accommodation in your workplace culture and daily management in order to promote smooth workflow and musculoskeletal (MSK) health at your workplace.

What to do if musculoskeletal symptoms appear?

If sickness absenteeism in your company exceeds the average in your business and MSK, i.e. musculoskeletal symptoms, are causing a significant percentage of the lost workdays, addressing the issue is more than just a health intervention. Employees’ absences due to illnesses are just the tip of the iceberg. It is likely that even more employees are having problems that affect their work performance and impair the productivity and quality of work.

You can reduce musculoskeletal problems and especially the harm they cause at the workplace by applying ergonomics. You can also make a difference in how meaningful the employees find their work and, also, how they perceive their symptoms. Take a clear stance on what you are prepared to do at the workplace so that the employee does not need to take sick leave.

Support work ability

The objective of early support is to promote employees’ work performance, reduce unnecessary sick leaves and the duration of symptoms, and to support the employees’ return to work. Encourage supervisors to identify the workload factors and MSK symptoms and to tackle them early on. Provide supervisors with training and opportunities to refresh their competence and share their experiences.

Ideally, they address harmful workloads long before they lead to sick leave and diagnosable illnesses. Build effective collaboration with the occupational health partner and create clear early support practices. This way, individual employees or supervisors will not have to think about what to do next.

Read more about early support

Provide modified work

Many collective agreements currently include modified work. Its introduction at individual workplace also requires an agreement with worker representatives and occupational health services. As an employer, you can offer your employees the opportunity to do modified work instead of sick leave. Modified work means that the employee performs work that is suitable for them when an injury or disorder prevents them from performing their regular tasks. You evaluate the opportunities and participate in organizing the modified work model in your company. It is important for you to collaborate with the occupational health services and make sure that they get an overall view of your practices and commit to your model as part of their own practices.

Modified work is based on mutual agreement. An employer’s decision to show modified work to an employee must be based on a medical assessment. The modified work must be appropriate and, where possible, similar to the work normally performed by the employee. At its best, it enhances the rehabilitation process. Modified work can also include training.

Ensure support for returning to work, support supervisors

Work accommodation means measures that help match the work requirements with the employee’s functional capacity. Accommodating work based on physical limitations and symptoms is often more straightforward than when dealing with mental health issues. Various standards and ergonomics guidelines are available to support these accommodations.

Determine in advance what kind of accommodation can be made in your company. Authorise supervisors to accommodate work as required within this framework.

Read more about how supervisors can support an employee’s return to work

  1. Work arrangements 

    • Define tasks clearly: focus on tasks that the employee is able to perform  
    • Divide tasks into shorter phases  
    • Adjust the workload: adapt targets 

    Modifying the work environment

    • Ensure the accessibility of the work environment 
    • Modify workstations 
    • Acquire assistive devices or suitable tools

    Solutions to make commuting easier

    • Alternatives to commuting 
    • Accessible parking spaces

    Studies indicate that early support, work accommodations (coupled with rehabilitation) together with multidisciplinary occupational health measures are more effective in supporting an employee’s return to work than individual therapy, rehabilitation, or exercise alone.

    At Ilmarinen we have long experience in vocational rehabilitation and supporting return to work. Read more about vocational rehabilitation. 

This is how you as an employer can support MSK health at the workplace

  • Use the workplace surveys made by occupational health services and the occupational health physiotherapist’s expertise in assessing workload and risks. In workplace surveys, the occupational health services’ duty is to describe the impact of the workload factors on the employees’ health and work ability and to make suggestions on how to reduce harmful workloads and the risk of work accidents.

  • Eliminate or reduce work phases that cause excessive strain.

  • Modify the work process and replace strenuous work with lighter solutions.

  • Accommodate work methods, tools and practices to reduce workloads.

  • Acquire assistive devices.

  • Identify the key role of supervisors in supporting employees and ensure that they have the time and other resources to accomplish this task.

  • At work, promote recovery through breaks that are proportionate to the workload, and through work shift arrangements.  

  • Support employees who have musculoskeletal symptoms. Remember that MSK symptoms often disappear with timeLet employees stay at work, if possible, and support their return to work.
  • Monitor and assess the effectiveness of the measures carried out and be prepared to change plans. 

  • Support exercise during breaks at work and during the employees’ free time.