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Bad habits damage health of workers and UK economy - one in four take no breaks during working day

CSP press release published on 10 June 2010

New research from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) shows that one in four people (25 per cent) in the UK regularly work all day without taking a break and are thereby putting their health at risk.

Bad habits damage health of workers and UK economy - one in four take no breaks during working day New research from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) shows that one in four people (25 per cent) in the UK regularly work all day without taking a break and are 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 stressed and not taking enough exercise, pose serious risks to health which can also cause huge costs for employers. The UK wide survey for the CSP shows that over a third (36 per cent) of staff regularly work through their lunch break and nearly a quarter (23 per cent) take no lunch break at all. Half of those who work through their breaks (50 per cent) do so because they have too much work to do, while almost a third (31 per cent) say it is because there are too few staff to cover the workload. The CSP, which today (10 June) launches its Fit for Work campaign, (2) 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 (3) 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:

  • 54 per cent of workers said they 'always or usually' go to work when they feel stressed or physically unwell - with 31 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
  • 41 per cent of employees say they are too busy with work to exercise regularly (up from 33 per cent in CSP's 2009 survey).

Phil Gray, chief executive 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 41 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 or management of stress. The CSP has a range of free leaflets with ideas and advice for staff in offices and factory type settings on how to improve their health at work and fit exercise into their daily routine. See the latest Fit for active work leaflet. For further media information please call the CSP press office on 020 7306 1111. Out of hours please call Jennie Edmondson, CSP head of press and PR, on 07786 332 197 or Becca Bryant on 07786 546 095.

Notes for editors

  1. Opinium Research online poll of 2628 UK adults, March 2010.
  2. The CSP's Fit for Work initiative is part of its wider Move for Health campaign which encourages people to adopt healthier life styles - in particular getting more exercise, which has a role to play in the prevention of stress. Making healthy choices, like eating a balanced diet, taking exercise and having a work-life balance, can protect a person's mental health in the same way that it does their physical health.
  3. Musculoskeletal disorders are one of the biggest causes of people being off sick from work on any given day. An estimated 9.3 million working days (full-day equivalent) were lost through musculoskeletal disorders caused or made worse by work in GB (Labour Force Survey 2008/09). The Work Foundation estimates that MSDS cost society approximately £7.4billion a year. Stress, depression or anxiety accounted for an estimated 11.4 million days off work in GB (HSE 2008/09). In 2009, NICE estimated the cost to UK employers of work related stress at £28.3bn per annum - a quarter of the UK's total sick bill. This figure is composed of absenteeism, presentism and turnover costs.
  4. The CSP supports the recently introduced Statement of Fitness to Work (which has replaced the 'sick note') with its emphasis on helping people return to work by focussing on what they are capable of rather than what they are not capable of. Recent research has shown that returning to work promotes recovery and aids rehabilitation; improves physical and mental health and well-being and reduces social exclusion and poverty.
  5. The CSP's free leaflets including Fit for Work, The Easy Exercise Guide, and Fit for the Future (aimed at children and parents) offer advice on taking the first steps towards a healthier life style.
  6. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is the professional, educational and trade union body for the UK's 49,000 chartered physiotherapists, physiotherapy students and assistants. See previous press releases on this website.


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