One in four ‘works all day without break’

New research from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) shows that over one in four people (27 per cent) in the East Midlands regularly work all day without taking a break, thereby putting their health at risk. Physiotherapists are concerned that the poor work habits revealed in the research such as not taking sufficient breaks, working in the same position for extended periods, going to work when ill or feeling stressed and not taking enough exercise, pose serious risks to health which can also cause huge costs for employers.

The CSP survey also shows that in the East Midlands more than one in three staff regularly work through their lunch break (35 per cent) and one in four take no lunch break at all (24 per cent). Over half of those who work through their breaks (52 per cent) do so because they have too much work to do, while 34 per cent say it is because there are too few staff to cover the workload. Across England as a whole, 25.5 per cent of staff regularly work all day without taking a break, 36.5 per cent regularly work through their lunch break and 23 per cent take no lunch break at all.

The CSP, which today launches its Fit for Work campaign, says UK workers are increasing their risk of chronic musculoskeletal disorders (such as on-going back pain), obesity, cancer, depression, heart disease, diabetes type 2 and stroke through poor working practices. Sickness absence and sickness presence, when staff come to work feeling unwell, is costing employers and society over £35 billion every year in reduced performance and productivity, sick pay and benefits. Physiotherapists advise that ill health could in many cases be avoided if workers and employers adopted healthier working practices. Early intervention, through rapid access to treatment, is also vital in the case of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and can prevent common problems such as back pain becoming long standing, disabling conditions.

The CSP’s research reveals that in the East Midlands:

  • 53.5 per cent of workers said they ‘always or usually’ go to work when they feel stressed or physically unwell — with 28 per cent experiencing physical pain and 42 per cent feeling stressed at least once a week
  • 46 per cent of workers say their physical pains are due to working in the same position for a long time
  • 46 per cent of workers say their stress is caused because there are not enough staff to do the work expected
  • 38 per cent of employees say they are too busy with work to exercise regularly
  • Ann Green, Chair of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy explains:

“Physiotherapists are concerned that overworking and not taking breaks is actually costing employers and their staff. Employees pay the price with their health and there is a cost to employers in reduced productivity and performance. 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. With advice and support from physiotherapists and other occupational health experts, employers can create healthier work environments and benefit not only society but also their profit margin. “

Ben Willmott, Senior Public Policy Advisor for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) comments:

“These findings should ring alarm bells for employers. 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.

“Employers should ensure their line managers have the people management skills to prevent pressure becoming stress and to identify the early warning signs if people are struggling to cope at work. Organisations that support employee wellbeing 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. “

Physiotherapists believe that physical problems, such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), are often exacerbated by any psychological stress the person is feeling. CSP’s research found that in the East Midlands, 40 per cent of staff with physical problems caused by work feel these problems are made worse because they are also experiencing work related stress.

The CSP advises that regular exercise is crucial not only for weight management but also to reduce the risks of developing life threatening illnesses. In addition, physical activity can help in the prevention and management of stress.