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 in the Workplace
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.
In some cases, you might need flexibility from your job environment to help you find better ways to work while managing your health. After speaking with your team, talk with your human resources director and explain the type of pain management program and medical treatment you’ve been prescribed. Ask your employer to consider options such as:
- a flexible part-time schedule until you can return to work on a full-time basis
- designated quiet area conducive to increased focus and concentration
- stress relief activities for the entire team (e.g. in-office massages and yoga, walking teams, etc)
- a permanent work from home schedule
- changes to your workstation equipment (e.g. ergonomic chairs and office supplies, etc)
- more frequent breaks to allow you to stretch and move about
What employers can do
Depending on the nature of your chronic pain, there are many different accessories and strategies your employer can provide to help you reduce discomfort and to prevent lost productivity.
For instance, people suffering from back pain can benefit from ergonomic chairs. There are many options available online for as little as $50. Additional helpful items include ergonomic keyboards, standing desks, and supportive footwear.
More importantly, employers can provide those with chronic pain opportunities for mental and physical wellness techniques. These may include:
- taking regular breaks to stretch out, move around and get some fresh air
- offering a pleasant and supportive work environment
- keeping the lines of communication open to help you find solutions and accommodations
A 2016 survey gave 3,000 employees and their employers a chance to participate in a workplace pain management program. Results included:
- 50% of employees who participated reported they saw an increase in their day-to-day productivity
- 59% reported missing fewer days due to aches and pains
- 99% reported an improvement improved morale around the workplace as well as have a better perspective on their organizations
Talk to your employer today about what systematic as well as practical solutions they can offer you and your fellow coworkers who live with chronic pain.
The bottom line: chronic pain can affect job performance
Chronic pain continues to find its way into all aspects of life, creating physical discomfort as well as mental and emotional stress. As pain persists, it is likely to negatively affect your job performance. Also, it’s likely that you and your fellow coworkers with chronic pain will find it difficult to maintain concentration, engagement and morale.
If you’re an employee, speak with your pain doctor, human resources manager and employer about long periods of pain. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself and your needs.
If you’re an employer, look for ways to provide more and do more for your team. Be flexible, be open to creative pain management strategies and promote health and wellness over productivity.
What steps would you like to see your employer take to help you manage your chronic pain at work?
Share your story in the comments.
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Pain management starts and ends with health awareness and dedication. Click here to read more.