Pain Costs Billions in Lost Wages for Sick Days

Pain Costs Billions in Lost Wages for Sick Days

This section is compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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The following information is reproduced with the permission
of Business and Health Magazine

Pain Costs Employers Billions in Lost Wages for Sick Days

Survey shows absences due to pain totaled 50 million days last year

American employers lose billions of dollars each year because pain keeps workers off the job, according to a 1996 survey by Louis Harris & Associates. "Pain is a major cause of absenteeism in the workforce," said Robert Leitman, Executive Vice President, Louis Harris. "In 1995, pain caused 50 million lost work days at a cost to employers of at least $3 billion in wages for employees who called in sick."

Two-thirds of full-time workers in the United States (80 million employees) have conditions that cause pain and 15 million workers suffer pain on a chronic basis. In 1995, 17 million employees took an average of three sick days because pain forced them to stay home. The survey also found that nearly 10 million employees (eight percent of the full-time workforce) have ever been on short-term disability for an average 17 days because of pain conditions. (Short-term disability typically begins after sick days are exhausted and provides wage replacement for up to six months.)

More than half of workers suffer from pain that is not job-related; the most common pain types they report are headache (40 million employees), menstrual pain (also 40 million), low back pain (36 million), muscle pain (24 million), and neck pain (20 million). Some 15 percent of workers have work-related pain; 9 percent suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome or other pain conditions often caused by repetitive motion tasks (e.g., assembly line work or word processing).

"Employers underestimate the prevalence of both work-related and non-work-related pain," Mr. Leitman said. "Employers believe that only 16 percent of employees have pain that does not stem from their work, whereas 52 percent of employees report this type of pain. Employers also believe that only six percent of workers have pain conditions that stem directly from work, while 15 percent of employees report they do.

"Although they underestimate the prevalence, employers believe that workers who call in sick because of pain are likely to take nine to 10 days off -- far more than the three days reported by workers," Mr. Leitman said.

Most employers believe pain has detrimental effects that go beyond casual absenteeism. "Nearly 70 percent say pain influences workers' on-the-job productivity and 61 percent say it negatively affects employee morale," Mr. Leitman said. "Almost two-thirds also say pain drives up the cost of healthcare premiums."

Despite these concerns, few employers offer workplace programs that address prevention or management of pain conditions. "While 40 percent of companies offer wellness programs, only 13 percent of these offer preventive back care programs, and less than five percent offer other types of pain-oriented programs," he said.

While data are available about the relationship between pain and long-term disability and workers' compensation, the Harris survey is the first to measure the role of pain in casual absence (sick days).

Experts at a 1996 roundtable sponsored by Business and Health Magazine urged American employers to be concerned about the high cost of casual absenteeism caused by pain, noting that the $3 billion employers paid last year in wages for absent employees represents only a fraction of the bill. Not factored in are any medical costs or other indirect spending such as wages for replacement workers.

"Pain and Absenteeism in the Workplace" was conducted by Louis Harris & Associates on behalf of Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical.

© Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical 1995-2003. 
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