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Pain Management Health Center

Pain Hurts Employees at Work and at Home

Presenteeism' Costs Employers More Than Disability, Absenteeism
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Nov. 11, 2003 (New York) -- Employers may end up paying more for lost productivity caused by employees who work through the pain rather than staying at home due to disability.

A new study shows that productive time lost due to common pain conditions such as headaches, back pain, and arthritis costs U.S. employers more than $61 billion dollars per year, and most of that lost time is caused by impaired performance at work rather than work absence.

"Pain is common and treatable condition that results in a significant but largely invisible cost to employers," says researcher Walter Stewart, PhD, MPH, director of the Center for Health Research and Rural Advocacy at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Penn.

Stewart presented the results of the study, which appears in the Nov. 12 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, at an American Medical Association briefing on pain management today in New York City.

The Cost of Pain at Work

Researchers say the purpose in doing this study was to make the cost of common pain-related conditions such as headache, arthritis, back pain, and other musculoskeletal pain real to employers.

"Employers will understand what 61 billion dollars means, and they will understand that in any two-week period one in eight workers is losing time from a pain condition," says Stewart. "On average, they're losing about five hours per week."

In the past, researchers say that employers have closely monitored costs associated with worker disability because it creates paperwork and is easy to follow. In addition, most studies on the work-related impact of pain have only looked at lost time due to worker absenteeism in the form of lost or shortened workdays.

But this study shows that's not where the real problem is. Researchers say disability and absenteeism are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lost productive time, and "presenteeism" is actually the largest cause of lost productivity at work.

'Presenteeism' Costs Employers Most

Presenteeism is defined as reduced performance while at work, which is commonly caused by pain-related conditions, such as headache, arthritis, and back pain.

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