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June 10, 2010

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Overstretched workers jeopardising their health, study warns

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) has issued a stark warning to workers of the damage they are doing to their health, following research suggesting that a majority of employees go to work when too sick.

The study appears to contradict recent research from the Confederation of British Industry, which claimed that 15 per cent of the total of 180 million sick days a year are, in fact, bogus – and cost the UK economy £2.5bn.

In the CSP’s poll of more than 2600 people, 54 per cent said they “always or usually” go to work when they feel stressed, or physically unwell – with 31 per cent experiencing physical pain and 42 per cent feeling stressed at least once a week.

Of those experiencing physical pain, 46 per cent attributed it to working in the same position for too long. A staggering 36 per cent of staff admitted to working regularly through their lunch break, and 23 per cent said they take no lunch break at all.

Half of these do so because they have too much work to do, while 31 per cent put it down to there being too few staff to cover the workload. A lack of sufficient staff numbers was also the chief cause of stress (46 per cent) among those suffering from the problem.

Physiotherapists believe that physical problems, such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), are often exacerbated when the person is also feeling stressed. The research found that 41 per cent of staff with physical problems caused by work feel these problems are made worse because they are also experiencing work-related stress. The same number of employees also said they are too busy with work to exercise regularly – a rise of 8 per cent compared with the CSP’s 2009 survey.

Launching its Fit for Work campaign today (10 June), aimed at encouraging people to adopt healthier lifestyles, the Society warned that poor working practices are putting UK employees at increased risk of chronic musculoskeletal disorders, such as ongoing back pain, obesity, cancer, depression, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Ann Green, chair of the CSP, remarked: “Physiotherapists are concerned that overworking and not taking breaks is actually costing employers and their staff. Employees pay the price with their health and there is a cost to employers in reduced productivity and performance.

“Work is good for us and can contribute to physical and mental well-being – but not when overworking means people don’t have the time or energy to look after their own health, or when staff are at work but are not fit for work.”

Ben Willmott, senior public policy advisor for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), added: “These findings should ring alarm bells for employers. A certain level of pressure at work is, of course, desirable. However, when the pressure people face regularly exceeds their ability to cope – in other words, stress – it is likely to lead to time off work and is linked to conditions such as depression, anxiety and heart disease.” 
Suggesting what employers can do to improve their staff’s health, he underlined the role of line managers in needing to possess the people management skills to identify “the early warning signs if people are struggling to cope at work”.

Concluded Willmott: “Organisations that support employee well-being, through providing flexible working and encouraging and supporting staff to make healthier choices over diet and exercise, will also benefit from a more resilient and productive workforce.”

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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14 years ago

I cannot be the only person to point out that the research that shows 15% of all sick days are bogus does not contradict the fact that most people go to work when too sick.