- Unum data on short-term and long-term disability has revealed a significant increase in employee joint and musculoskeletal disorder claims during the past decade.
- “As people work longer and later in life, we’re seeing the effects of an aging workforce,” said Greg Breter, senior vice president of benefits at Unum, in a statement. The spike is especially prominent among baby boomers, he said, who account for more than half of all long-term disability claims.
- In other findings, cancer remained the top driver of long-term disability claims during the past 10 years. Pregnancy topped the list for short-term disability, while long-term disability claims for complicated pregnancies decreased 47% during that time period. Unum said medical advances in treatment are leading to fewer complicated pregnancies, and early intervention and preventative strategies are getting people well and back on the job sooner.
As employees work longer, employers are looking for ways to address common musculoskeletal and joint problems. Nearly half of Americans have one of these disorders, which includes back pain, and the annual cost of treatment and absenteeism to employers is estimated to be around $213 billion annually, according to an Employee Benefits News report. Back pain alone accounts for 10% of healthcare costs and is a major cause of lost productivity, EBN said.
Employers have taken a number of measures in response, including adopting a focus on these disorders in employee wellness programs. Some employers are looking to tech for help, too; Ford, for example, recently tested exoskeletons, rigid body coverings, that ease heavy lifting and help with performing overhead tasks. The benefits of such advances may go beyond reducing injuries, too; these inventions have the potential to improve diversity and address the talent shortage in fields like manufacturing and construction, giving older workers, those with disabilities and others access to jobs that might otherwise be out of reach.
Employers looking to reduce the effects of these disorders on the workplace need to look beyond their older workers, however. Work-at-home employees are 10% more likely than on-site workers to suffer from such health problems, according to a recent WorldatWork poll, with many admitting they often work hunched over, sometimes from a bed or a sofa.
As more employers offer flexible work options, they may want to consider advising workers on best practices for creating a work environment that can reduce their risk of injury and curb healthcare costs.