The expressions “just walk it off” and “grin and bear it” are common. The problem with these sayings is that they don’t really work in the world of chronic pain. Such pain can be more than something you can just live with; it’s likely something you struggle with throughout your day. This includes your responsibilities at work. Let’s take a look at how chronic pain can affect job performance.
Chronic pain at work 101
Chronic pain is recurrent pain that lasts more than 3-6 months. It can range in intensity from minimal to severe. Researchers estimate it affects over 50 million Americans each year and can manifest in a variety of different symptoms.
Even if you are somehow able to work while living with chronic physical pain, it can be distracting and make your work days unpleasant. Your job performance may suffer in a variety of ways, including lost productivity, reduced ability to focus and generally low morale.
These battles can quickly impact your overall physical and emotional health at home as well. While it indeed can affect your job performance, it also provides opportunities for fellow employees, employers and healthcare professionals to work together and to create successful pain management programs that benefit everyone.
Pain is problematic
Types of chronic pain include backaches, headaches, arthritis, lung and respiratory illnesses and long term injuries. Struggling to succeed on the job while battling pain and trauma can indeed significantly impact on job performance.
Some of the associated problems include:
- reduced ability focus and concentrate
- increased inter-work conflicts
- impaired communication
- reduced job enthusiasm
- increased levels of depression and other mental health issues
- fewer positive social interactions among coworkers
Together, these different issues can create a serious strain in the work environment. In a Florida State University study of 2,000 employees, researchers noted a weekly 5 hour loss of productivity from individuals suffering from chronic pain. Over the course of a year, this added up to an average cost of $5,000 per employee.
However, there are additional emotional and mental costs aside from work performance that are less easy to measure. People who suffer from chronic pain often feel left out at work or passed over for promotions. They may also feel less engaged with their jobs.
All of these factors contribute to increased risk of anxiety, depression and increased perception of pain. In short, chronic pain can affect job performance and overall wellness in many negative, self-reinforcing manners.
Changing the work culture
The most important thing is for work culture to become more open about chronic pain. Since there is such a stigma about pain, many people with chronic pain may not feel comfortable disclosing their conditions.
It’s important for employers to improve education and communication on this front. Also important is the need for leadership within organizations to create different forms of support. This doesn’t only include pain management and physical therapy options, but also emotional support to help people suffering through pain.
By creating an open atmosphere where employees feel safe disclosing their chronic pain, employers can help create strategies that will not only improve morale and productivity but also increase overall job retention.
What employees can do
If you’re living with chronic pain, your road to relief begins with your healthcare team. They can make an assessment of the state of your chronic pain and what steps you can take to manage it.