For the majority of society, work is important on many levels. As well as earning a living, working can provide a focus in our lives, and for a lot of us, working is enjoyable and satisfying. Moreover, when people are in work, they grow accustomed to a particular standard of living based on the money that they make.
What’s more, employment contributes to our self-esteem and self-image.
Problems at work
Problems at work affect both our mental and physical health. Common issues include workplace injury, bullying, discrimination, stress, and job dissatisfaction. When illness and injury are work-related, these can have a significant impact on the individual involved as well as their family.
The impact of work-related illness and injury on work performance
When people are injured at work or have a work-related illness, their performance can be significantly affected. If someone has been seriously injured or has a serious illness, they might not be able to work at all.
For less severe injuries or illnesses, there are consequences too. For example, people might need to change hours, change roles, have adaptations to their workstation. On a personal level, they might work with a particular level of deliberation or caution after being injured or ill.
After an accident at work, family life and daily activities can be seriously affected for a long time. With chronic conditions like Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), the effects impact every aspect of a person’s life.
All of these things, of course, will mean that a person’s work performance might not be what it once was, and this might be hard for the person to deal with on top of their illness or injury.
Behavioural effects of injury and illness and work performance
Across all sectors, when a person has been ill or had an accident at work, there are likely to be noticeable behavioural changes. Disturbed sleep is common, as is loss of patience or loss of temper. Depending on the nature of the illness or accident, a person might find it more challenging to make decisions or concentrate. For many people, the behavioural effects of illness and injury persist for many months, often when the physical side has improved.
When we look at time taken off work, in both the healthcare and construction sectors, accidents typically cause a person to have a more protracted absence than a work-related illness. Often, work-related illnesses result in no time off at all. This is because, by their nature, accidents are traumatic, and they can need a long recuperation period before a person can return to work. Since work-related illnesses tend to be chronic, they often don’t cause absence. They can, however, impact significantly on work performance. Therefore, work-related accidents and illnesses often incur additional costs for employers as they deal with reorganising work and poorer work performance.
Neck, shoulder, hand, and arm pain and work performance
It is not only work-related illnesses and injuries that affect work performance. Any injury or illness can have an impact on a person’s ability to carry out their work. Neck, shoulder, hand, and arm pain are common in the working population.
While we’re more likely to consider dangerous industries like construction to have problems with injuries and illnesses, it’s quite common to see back, neck, and upper limb pain across all sectors, particularly among people who work in offices sitting at desks or whose work involves lifting.
Rather than taking sick leave, many workers continue to work despite experiencing pain. Even though these people are present at work, their performance can be reduced due to their functional limitations.
The consequences of injuries and illnesses are much more extensive than measurable sickness absence. According to a study by the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, only one-third of workers experiencing a loss in productivity will take sick leave due to their symptoms. This means that two-thirds of people who are being less productive than usual are still at work.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders and work performance
In recent years, the incidence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders has increased. Largely this is due to prolonged use of computers. Using computers excessively has also been attributed to an increase in upper limb and neck problems.
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are a significant issue for both employers and employees alike. For example, in one study, 9% of female computer workers and 11% of male computer workers with pain in their neck, back and upper extremities reported reduced work performance. On average, each person lost 17 hours of work across the month, which exceeds the number of hours lost due to sickness absence.
What can be done to help a better performance at work?
Performance at work is severely affected by illness and injury, and they cause a substantial reduction in work performance. The most prominent factor associated with poorer performance is pain (including its impact on sleep and work performance). Costs associated with performance loss place a burden upon individuals, employers, and the wider society. This burden occurs because of workers reduced productivity.
Interventions in the workplace are becoming more and more critical. In recent decades, the responsibility of employee health has shifted considerably to the employer. As a result, there are many interventions that employers can use to improve work performance among workers suffering from illnesses or injuries. These interventions can be grouped into ones that target workers’ knowledge and health (education and exercise) and those that target the work environment and job tasks (e.g. ergonomics).
In terms of education, employers can train employees to look after their health and safety in the workplace. Specific job-related conditions can also be part of the education programme according to the sector or industry. What’s more, employees can be trained on appropriate exercises to prevent or improve pain-causing conditions. This is especially important in workplaces where employees maintain the same posture for long periods.
An easy way of improving work performance is by ensuring equipment available to employees is ergonomic in design. For example, chairs, desks, keyboards, etc., can all be positioned ergonomically to prevent or relieve back, neck, shoulder, and upper limb pain.