Periodic Breaks Essential in Establishing Healthy Work Environment
In a study of more than 2,600 employees in the United Kingdom, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy found that one in four people (25 percent) said they don't take any breaks during the workday. Researchers said poor work habits -- such as not taking sufficient breaks, working in the same position for extended periods, going to work when ill or stressed, and not getting enough exercise -- pose serious health risks that can add up to huge costs for employers.
Phil Gray, chief executive of the CSP, is concerned that overworking and not taking breaks will lead to a multitude of problems for employers and their staffs, such as chronic musculoskeletal disorders, obesity, ongoing back pain, depression, heart disease, diabetes, and other maladies.
"Employees pay the price with their health, and there is a cost to employers in reduced productivity and performance," he said. "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."
More than a third of the survey respondents (36 percent) said they regularly worked through their lunch break while nearly a quarter (23 percent) said they took no lunch break at all. Half of those who worked through their breaks (50 percent) said they did so because they had too much work to do while almost a third (31 percent) said it was because there are too few staff to cover the workload.
Rest improves productivity. Cindy Roth, president and CEO of Ergonomic Technologies Corp. in Syosset, N.Y., said employees work more effectively when they take regular breaks.
"Years ago, companies thought that employees should never take breaks because they were being paid to work," she said. "But what we've found is that employees work so much better if there is no pain or discomfort. When you take a break, your body changes positions, you stop using certain muscle groups, and your body will recover. All body joints need a rest break because long-term static postures will lead to injuries."
Roth said research has shown that employees who perform intensive computer work (defined as more than two consecutive hours without taking a break) show the greatest number of office-related injuries.
"Sitting for more than two hours is a definite risk factor," she said. "Employees have to move. We weren't born to sit at a keyboard all day long."
While individuals who work in static postures need to stand up and move around to get the blood flowing, employees performing more laborious work might be better suited to take a load off.
"It depends on the industry," Roth said. "But the most important thing to remember is that employees listen to their bodies because they will tell them when they need a break."
It is also critical, Roth said, that employees not push themselves to work faster so that they can take a longer break later in the day.
"That's not a smart way to work," she said. "Working harder is enough to put you at a high risk for a potential injury. Train employees to recognize the signs of fatigue and discomfort so that they learn when it is time to rest."
Poor habits alarming.
The survey identified other work habits that researchers said can lead to increased risk of injury and poor health. The study found that:
- Presenteeism remains a problem. Approximately 54 percent of workers said they always or usually go to work when they feel stressed or physically unwell with 31 percent experiencing physical pain and 42 percent feeling stressed at least once a week.
- Static postures lead to pain. The survey found that 46 percent of workers said their physical pains were due to working in the same position for a long time.
- Many employees too busy to exercise. Approximately 41 percent of employees said they were too busy with work to exercise regularly. This was up from 33 percent in CSP's 2009 survey.
"These findings should ring alarm bells for employers," said Ben Willmott, senior public policy advisor for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. "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."
Willmott said line supervisors should be equipped to prevent pressure from turning into stress and to identify the warning signs if employees are struggling to cope.
"Organizations 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," he said.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
August 16, 2010
Copyright 2010© LRP Publications