Four Disturbing Insights About Employee Health (That You Can Change)

Being in pain doesn’t stop far too many of us from going to work anyway. That’s a problem businesses need to address with their employees.Getty

The Lancet, which annually publishes an intimidating-sounding “Global Burden of Disease Study” recently put out a report that may scare you for a few reasons. For the first time, the report included estimates of the numbers of health workers, revealing that they are in dangerously short supply. They also called the state of global health this year disturbing (their words, not mine). And for the first time in the history of the report, global health is getting worse, not better.

We’ve entered a new health reality, according to The Lancet.

Now what? Time to think differently and to find a few health lessons in unexpected places. All of the research below focuses primarily on the leading causes of disability globally: chronic pain and depressive disorders. If even one of these insights inspires you to take a meeting with a company you never imagined you’d be talking to 10 years ago or say, reminds you to press send on that the granular health survey your staff said employees would never fill out, more power to you. Like it or not, we are all in some way in the business of managing chronic pain.

  1. Absenteeism May Not Be Your Most Costly Problem For many employers, it’s not absenteeism but presentee-ism that’s dragging business productivity down. The term is used to describe people who show up to work in pain, making them significantly less productive. A shocking 77 % of lost productivity in the U.S. is due to presenteeism. Not only does it impede productivity, but it also sows the seeds of distrust between employer and employee. “For years I would haul myself into the office and sit at my desk, willing myself to look like a productive employee,” says Katherine Tasheff, a New Yorker who at the time was working for a university in New Jersey. “I could barely concentrate. My patience and professionalism were stretched, often to the breaking point. It was made worse by the fact that if I took a sick day, the vice president of my division suspected I was interviewing for another position,” she says.

    The Takeaway: As the workforce grows older, presenteeism could become much more significant, unexpected issue. The biggest cause of disability is arthritis or back pain, followed closely by chronic headaches, according to the Massachusetts Pain Initiative. (MPI). Would every aspect of your business need to change to tackle presenteeism issues on the job? Maybe. But again, getting started seems to be the right thing to do in 2019.

  2. There’s A Ripple Effect When Employees Show Up In Pain One study showed an increase in medication errors, lower quality of care scores and some patient falls were due to nurses presenteeism, according to data from a study of self-reported quality of care. The study was done on a randomized group of 2,500 hospital-employed nurses in North Carolina. Nurses, particularly midwives, are at an increased risk for musculoskeletal disorders that result in pain, according to Nurse and MidwifeMagazine in Australia.  Depression in hospital-employed nurses also affects on-the-job productivity.

    The Takeaway: It’s not likely that the number of mishaps will drop, considering that there is a shortage of healthcare workers across the country, including nurses and doctors. The study concludes that more attention must be paid to the health of the nursing workforce to positively influence the quality of patient care and patient safety and to control costs.