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Physical and Mental Disorders: Effects on Absenteeism and Presenteeism

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By Scott B. Elkind, Esq.

The differences of the effects of physical as opposed to mental disabilities are now being studied in order to discover the nature of these types of disability, their resulting influence on missed time from work, and possible preventative measures which can be taken by employers to reduce productivity losses due to disabilities.

During one of my research binges at the National Library of Medicine Bethesda, an intriguing medical article caught my eye which I downloaded. It was written by Ronald de Graaf, and others and is entitled "Comparing the Effects on Work Performance of Mental and Physical Disorders." It was published in the journal Society of Psychiatry and Psychiatry Epidemiology on 3/21/12.

This article is the result of a large study of thousands of workers in the Netherlands who were surveyed concerning sick days utilized and reduced functioning in the workplace resulting from a array of physical and mental disorders. From this study, it was learned that any mental disorder was associated with 10.5 additional absent days, 8 days of reduced qualitative functioning, and 12 total days loss from work. Whereas, for any physical disorder the similar numbers of work missed were 10.7 additional absent days, 3.5 days of reduced qualitative functioning, and 11.3 total days loss from work. The high number of total work days resulted from the following conditions: drug abuse, bipolar disorder, major depression, digestive disorders, and panic disorder.

When you utilize these study statistics and utilize them with the United States own statistics concerning recent studies, the loss of time from work becomes alarming. Major depression and bipolar disorder are associated with 27.2 and 65.5 annual work days lost due to missed work (absenteeism) or reduced functioning at work (presenteeism). This represents a salary equivalent of lost productivity totaling 37 and 14 billion dollars respectively.

Given the severe nature of many physical disabilities studied including cardiovascular disease, chronic back pain, migraine, arthritis, respiratory disorders, diabetes, digestive disorders, and others, the initial assumption naturally would be that physical conditions would lead to greater days missed from work. Bad assumption.

Overall, mental disorders account of 13.4% of all absent days whereas physical disorders result in 24.9% of absent days. But, as seen from the above statistics, increased number of days of work absence/reduced productivity result from mental disorders.

These statistics underscore the very real need for preventative physical and mental health screening by employers so as to prevent reduced productivity in the workforce. This would include the study of worker subpopulations in order to ascertain increased risks of specific mental and physical disorders.

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