Minor aches and pains hit employers in the wallet

Tuesday , 3 March 2015 by Aimee Bourke

New research carried out for Southern Cross Health Society shows the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders suffering from joint, neck or lower back pain are not seeking treatment for it.

Results from the annual health survey showed:

  1. 15% of Kiwis suffer from neck pain – of those only 25% are receiving treatment
  2. 26% suffer from lower back pain – of those 29% are receiving treatment, and
  3. 26% suffer from joint pain and inflammation in the fingers, knees, hips or spine – of those just 39% are receiving treatment.

Vicki Caisley, Southern Cross Health Society’s Head of People and Talent, says, “Some people will have a history of niggling pains and that may account for not seeking treatment. However, employers need to be aware that niggling conditions can actually have quite an impact on their workforce presenteeism, productivity and costs, so it makes sense that we do our part to provide a fit and healthy working environment.”

Caisley also highlighted that aches and pains can affect anyone of any age.

“While the numbers do increase as workers age, the research showed that 10% of those aged under 30 years struggle with neck pain and this climbed to 18% when asked about back pain. Employers of manual workers need to be particularly cognisant of this,” says Caisley.

The 2013 BusinessNZ Wellness in the Workplace Survey asked businesses what type of illness or injury most frequently caused personal absences. For manual employees, physical pain (for example sore back, neck, knees) accounted for 34%, while for non-manual workers this was 24%.

“The same survey told us that, on an annual average, each employee is absent 4.5 days and typically costs their employer $837[i]. When you do the sums relating to physical pain, the cost is hundreds of millions to the New Zealand economy.

“The good news is that there are a lot of steps employers can take to help their workers manage physical pain,” says Caisley.

“Short-term, flexible working hours or rehabilitation plans can work well, particularly if the pain is more than mild discomfort or the employee works in a manual environment. However, she says, a more sustainable solution is encouraging a fit and mobile workforce who actively take control of how they treat their bodies throughout the work day.

“The human body is not designed to do one task repetitively or remain inactive for long periods of time, yet these aspects of the modern working environment often exacerbate physical pain.

“Obviously the solutions and emphasis are going to differ according to the industry each business operates in. However, a start for any business is a wellness programme.

“This could range from encouraging workers to take breaks and stretch or participate in group exercise activities to subsidised health insurance providing access to physiotherapy or chiropractic care. But the key to any wellness programme is communicating with your employees so that you can assess what they want or need and then actively engage them in a way that best fits your business.”


[i]For more information see Wellness in the Workplace Survey 2013 Report