Study: 1 in 3 Workers in Pain

Pain Among Employees Common and Affects Productivity

From the WebMD Archives

July 15, 2005 -- Nearly one in three workers suffers from pain that affects not only their health but their productivity as well, according to a new study.

Researchers surveyed employees of a major Fortune 500 company and found nearly 30% were in pain beyond the normal everyday aches and pains, like toothaches or muscle sprains.

Lost productivity due to performing at less than 100% on the job (presenteeism) as well as missing work days (absenteeism) amounted to about four days a month for those in pain compared with less than half a day for healthy employees.

Researchers say the findings confirm that pain in the workplace is a major cause of lost productivity that merits greater attention by employers.

Four common pain conditions (headaches, arthritis, back pain, and other musculoskeletal problems) cause productivity losses among 13% of the U.S. workforce at a cost of more than $62 billion per year, they write.

Measuring Employee Pain

In this study, researchers looked at the burden of pain among more than 1,000 employees of a Fortune 500 company based in the Northeast to determine the extent of the problem and identify possible targets for interventions.

Researchers measured pain among employees by asking them how much bodily pain they had experienced in the last four weeks and whether they were experiencing pain other than common, everyday aches and pains on the day of the survey.

The results showed that nearly 30% of the employees were in pain. Pain among employees was linked to a 45% drop in overall physical health and a 23% drop in mental health.

Pain was also linked to substantial declines in productivity. Lost productivity caused by healthy employees missing a day or not performing at 100% at work amounted to just more than a third of a day over the previous four weeks. But for those who were in pain, lost productivity from presenteeism and absenteeism totaled about four days.

Employees reporting the highest level of pain were also more likely to report one or more accidents at work in the last year compared with healthy employees.

Room for Improvement

Although employees said they used a variety of means to manage their pain -- including medication, visiting a doctor, and exercise -- many rated their current pain treatment approach as far short of optimal, leaving much room for improvement.

Researchers say the greatest room for improvement in pain management was found among those with musculoskeletal pain conditions, such as arthritis.

The results of the study appear in the July issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.