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
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
"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
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