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Pain Hurts Employees at Work and at Home

Presenteeism' Costs Employers More Than Disability, Absenteeism

'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.

In this study, researchers measured the impact of impaired work performance based on how often the 28,902 working adults surveyed said they did any of following due to a painful condition in the past two weeks:

  • Took longer to start working after arriving at work
  • Lost concentration
  • Repeated a job
  • Worked more slowly than usual
  • Felt fatigued at work
  • Did nothing at all at work

The study showed that more than three-fourths of the $61 billion in pain-related losses in productive time occurred at work as a result of this sort of behavior rather than work absence.

Researchers found that 13% of the total workforce experienced a loss in productive time during a two-week period due to a common pain condition. Headache was the frequently cited cause of lost work time (5.4%), followed by back pain (3.2%), arthritis pain (2%) and other musculoskeletal pain (2%).

Workers who had a headache lost an average of 3.5 hours per week of productive time at work, while workers who suffered from back or arthritis pain lost an average of 5.2 hours per week.

Researchers also found that lost productivity due to pain conditions did not differ much by age, sex, or type of occupation. But the largest differences were seen in education levels with those with lower education suffering more from pain at work.

Putting Pain at Work on Employer's Radars

Researchers say this study is one the first to quantify the effects of pain on lost productivity at work, and it may help employers make more effective use of their health-care dollars.

"One thing that's clear about pain conditions is that a minority of individuals account for the majority of lost time," says Stewart.

The study showed that 5% of workers accounted for 29% of the lost productive time, and about a third accounted for three-fourths of the lost productive time.

"That is important for employers to understand because that subgroup that's losing most of the time is a good target for education and intervention," says Stewart.

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