Common Health Problems
They're called "common" because they happen frequently. In fact, we all experience common health problems and minor injuries at some stage. These include:
Mental health [e.g. depression; anxiety; feeling stressed]
Musculoskeletal [e.g. back pain; neck pain; upper limb disorders]
Other complaints that interfere with work [e.g. blood pressure, asthma]
Most episodes are short-lived and most people can stay at work or need only a short time off. Paradoxically, the majority of long-term sickness absence is actually due to these problems. This should not happen, especially if we were all doing the things we know can prevent prolonged sickness absence.
This is important to you as a worker because there are things you can do to prevent the need for time off work, and especially a long time off.
This is important to you as a line manager because there are things you can easily do to reduce the chances your workers will need time off, and you need to especially focus on preventing it turning into long-term absence (a disaster for everyone). A few simple things can make people feel better and be more productive.
Common health complaints and minor injuries can be irritating or even distressing to any of us. They can interfere with ability to work and be active, but they are not ‘severe’ in a medical sense. They may have their ups and downs, but usually they settle down. In fact, most people remain at work or return quite quickly, and they come to no harm. Those who find themselves struggling or going off work don’t actually need to – if they get a little help from the organisation.
Line Managers can arrange temporary flexibility at work to make it possible to stay at work, or to return safely and early.
Workers can discuss what will work for them with their line manager and their healthcare provider.
This graph illustrates how common health problems affect people and industry. Basically, what it shows is that most people get symptoms, but only for some does work become problematic. Most people can and do cope with their health at work. Only a minority struggle, and very few need sick leave.
But, and it's a very big but, the number of people taking time off work and staying off work has been going up and up.
The really important thing to grasp is that these numbers should not be going up across our society, and that extended sick leave for common health problems can be prevented and needs to be prevented. When extended absence does happen, it results in unnecessary suffering for workers and is very costly to our whole society.
This is important to Workers because being off work for long periods results in substantial reduction in quality of life, and people usually experience more health problems as time goes by. It becomes much harder to get back into work, and this is made worse by deterioration in skills and confidence along with the feeling of isolation from work. All of this extra suffering can also extend to family members.
This is important to Line Managers because when workers have long periods of sickness absence there is an effect on overall productivity through loss of skills, the need to find cover, lack of experience in newer staff, or the need to ask others to work overtime. There is invariably extra cost to your organisation/company, and there is also a collective impact on our society and all taxpayers.
The burden of common health problems
Common health problems should always be manageable: the paradox is that so many end up on long-term sickness absence.
Despite better working conditions and better access to health care, the number of people with symptoms has not reduced. More importantly, the number of people claiming disability has actually increased. Whatever we’ve been doing up to now, it clearly hasn’t provided an effective answer.
The longer people are off work, the less likely they are to get back – the slide into worklessness is all too easy. Fortunately there is a lot you can do to help: quickly, cheaply, and effectively. It’s crucial to step in and help without delay. We now have a much clearer picture of what needs to be done.
This toolbox makes it possible for you to play your part to make this happen.