The Impact of Chronic Pain in the Workplace

Risk Management |
Written by Dell Dorn

Chronic pain is a widespread problem that affects 25.5 million people in the US in the form of musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs. While the pain is bad for the employees who suffer through it, it also negatively impacts the workplace overall. How does chronic pain impact your company? For most business, it doesn’t just lead to monetary costs and workers’ compensation claims. It also impacts productivity, employee turnover, and employee morale.


Direct & Indirect Costs

Perhaps the most obvious impact of chronic pain is on your company’s bottom line. Direct costs include healthcare bills and workers’ compensation claims, the latter amounting to $61.88 billion per year in the US. Workers with chronic pain can even go onto disability. And these numbers don’t include the indirect costs that come with chronic pain. Some studies estimate that presenteeism costs US employers between $150 billion and $250 billion per year. Meanwhile, absenteeism is also estimated to cost US employers around $150 billion per year.

According to health economists from Johns Hopkins University, writing in The Journal of Pain in 2012, chronic pain costs as much as $635 billion per year. That is a staggering amount for organizations to be spending on chronic pain. But financial burden is only one way in which employers are impacted.


Lower Productivity

Beyond just the direct and indirect costs, chronic pain also slows employees down and prevents them from being as efficient as they otherwise would be. Absenteeism, or employees missing work, is a common side effect of chronic pain. Employees will also suffer through presenteeism – being physically present at work but unable to perform at full capacity. Employees can feel guilty, frustrated, and even like they are a burden, and it can have negative effects on their mental health and morale. Both absenteeism and presenteeism can cause delays in getting certain projects completed. And, as described in the paragraphs above, both come with indirect costs of their own.


Employee Turnover

Eventually, employees enduring chronic pain can become dissatisfied with their employer. Whether they dislike how the workplace environment has contributed to their pain or wish the organization was more accommodating of their situation, workers may eventually decide to find employment elsewhere. It’s never good to lose an employee, especially in such circumstances.

Moreover, when one employee leaves, another must replace him or her. This means time and money spent finding the right people for the job, training them, and getting them caught up on their roles within the company.


How To Reduce Chronic Pain

Chronic pain has far-reaching and long-lasting impacts on employees and the organization overall. How can you minimize these effects? How can you make sure your employees are healthy and happy within your workplace? Here are some tips on how to keep your workers in tiptop shape:

  1. Ergonomic stations: Many employees have repetitive motion tasks and are required to sit or stand for extended periods of time, or may have certain tasks that are more strenuous. All have noticeable impacts on their physical pain. Repetitive movement and overuse can result in pain and strain injuries. Sitting too long can lead to pain in the back, shoulders, neck, arms, and hands. Standing can result in pain of the back or legs. Make sure you implement ergonomic evaluations for your workplace and provide employees with ergonomic chairs and even some sitting-standing desks.
  1. Regular breaks: One of the worst things employees can do is not take enough breaks. It is vital that all employees take breaks regularly – at least every two hours – and that they use their breaks well. It’s best for employees to stretch, move around, and get some fresh air. They should also allow themselves to clear their heads and not spend their time off thinking about work. You should also encourage employees to use their vacation time so they can fully recharge.
  1. Wellness programs: General health goes a long way to keeping employees fit and pain-free. Consider providing wellness programs addressing nutritional and physical health. You can also encourage general health in other ways: Provide healthy food options in the cafeteria or break room, allow employees to use a gym or offer them gym membership, and get them involved in friendly fitness challenges. The healthier your employees, the less likely they are to suffer chronic pain.
  1. DORN Pain-Free Treatment Therapy: One of the best investments you can make is in on-site deep tissue therapy that addresses pain before it escalates into the higher and more costly end of the pain continuumDORN Companies provide a variety of on-site treatment programs that will help your employees reduce or eliminate the pain, as well as preventing the higher levels of pain from developing.


Chronic pain has a major impact on companies and their employees, both in monetary costs and hits to efficiency and morale. But you can have an impact on chronic pain by doing your best to prevent it from developing. Give your employees the resources they need to nip it in the bud and stay healthy and fit. When pain does arise, the sooner it’s treated, the smaller its effects. Chronic pain may be pervasive, but it doesn’t have to take over your business.

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About the Author

Dell Dorn

Dell Dorn is the founder of DORN Companies. He started DORN in 1998 to help employers save money on workers' compensation claims and reduce OSHA recordables. Today, DORN customers realize the immense cost of employee pain and the enormous impact our service has on employee morale and their bottom line.
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About the Author

Dell Dorn

Dell Dorn is the founder of DORN Companies. He started DORN in 1998 to help employers save money on workers' compensation claims and reduce OSHA recordables. Today, DORN customers realize the immense cost of employee pain and the enormous impact our service has on employee morale and their bottom line.
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