The FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) industry is being pushed to its limits, with many manufacturers reporting demand at a historic high, as a consequence of COVID-19. One concern for FMCG employers during this time of strain, is the ability to keep staff healthy and happy, to meet the heightened requirements placed on teams. Paul Shawcross, clinical lead in occupational health services at Connect Health, provides advice on measures that can be introduced to keep teams in good musculoskeletal health while they’re busy supplying the nation.
While NHS staff are being clapped and supermarket workers being thanked in person for their efforts, those behind the scenes – the food packers and warehouse operatives which account for around 400,000 employees in the UK – are working tirelessly to make sure supermarket shelves are kept well stocked and Britain doesn’t go hungry.
These unsung heroes, who tend to work 12-hour shifts, are prone to musculoskeletal conditions – back, joint and upper limb pain, caused by long periods of standing and lots of repetition. Add to that the current pressure of increased demand, worry over contracting coronavirus and the removal of interaction with colleagues as a result of social distancing, and it’s likely these workers are feeling intense stress and strain.
We know that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the second leading cause of working days lost in the UK – accounting for 22% of sickness absence and costing the nation an estimated £7bn a year. So, at this time of national emergency, it has never been more important to keep staff in the best possible health, to avoid a surge in absenteeism and the knock-on implications of that.
Make time for movement
Before, during and after their shifts, staff should be encouraged to move in a different way to how they have been during their working hours. If they have been static for long periods or continually leaning across a conveyor belt, something as simple as a few stretches or a walk around the block will help loosen off the muscles.
Encouraging more energetic and structured exercise when staff get home will also reap huge benefits and there are plenty of great free training resources to tap into, such as the NHS’ fitness studio and Sport England’s ‘Stay in, work out', perfect for those who are short of time and miss getting to the gym.
Exercise naturally boosts endorphins, which increase happiness, enjoyment, and interest levels – all of which are important for mental and physical health and productivity.
Try micro breaks and rotation
For team members who have particularly repetitive roles, which leads to pressure on key areas of their body, the introduction of rotation and micro breaks are particularly effective.
In practice, this means rotating workers onto other lines to reduce repetition and opting for more breaks throughout the day, which are shorter versus longer and less frequent. That means the same amount of working hours are recorded – great for the managers who have quotas to fill, and for the workers who have more breaks in which to stretch out and loosen off their limbs, as well as get some fresh air and destress.
In addition to boosting physical and mental health, rotations and micro breaks lead to staff being much more alert – essential for those quality checking on the frontline.
Encourage team-led exercising
As with any new introductions, showing they are team-led rather than a demand from the top, tends to be better received. This works well when encouraging exercising during break times, particularly strength training which is proven to help reduce MSDs among workers who have physically demanding roles.
Those companies who empowered their employees to take the reins and run an exercise session, before passing the baton on to one of their colleagues, have had the best success. Plus, it’s a really simple measure to implement.
While it’s easy to get lost in the day job, especially at times of increased pressure like now, it is essential to show your team they’re important and integral to getting the job done
Start by finding a member of the workforce to kick things off. Ideally, this needs to be someone who isn’t afraid to be a little vivacious and perhaps already has an interest in sport and exercise. They are then tasked with hosting a session, during a breaktime, that gets people moving and those endorphins pumping.
With social distancing a very real concern at the moment, this could be a gentle walk around the site, or some stretches outside, a safe distance apart.
Show your team they are valued
While it’s easy to get lost in the day job, especially at times of increased pressure like now, it is essential to show your team they’re important and integral to getting the job done.
Simply thanking and appreciating staff can be so valuable – people like to feel their worth and to know they are making a difference, particularly when their role is fast-paced, stressful and physically demanding. Those who aren’t recognised can quickly feel neglected and unappreciated, resulting in a rise in absenteeism and work-related illness. The knock-on impact of this can be catastrophic for those finding themselves short-staffed and then looking to recruit and upskill new team members, amid the extreme circumstances we’re facing.
Small measures like workforce-wide announcements, money-off vouchers and team member of the week initiatives, all help boost staff morale without costing a fortune.
Paul is clinical lead for the occupational health physiotherapy services delivered by Connect Health