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Eye Strain at Work Is Up, Lowering Productivity

Number of breaks to rest the eyes is on the rise

A substantial majority of employees are regularly affected by at least one visual disturbance at work that could diminish their performance, with most taking multiple breaks during the day to rest their eyes, according to new research sponsored by Transitions Optical Inc., an eyeglass lens technology company.

The company’s latest Employee Perceptions of Vision Benefits reveals that 79 percent of employees say they encounter at least one visual disturbance that bothers their eyes at work, and more than half (53 percent) admit they take at least one break a day to rest their eyes because they hurt or feel uncomfortable.

Conducted in November 2013, the survey polled 1,500 working American adults whose employers offer vision benefits.

The top visual complaint is tired eyes, with nearly half of employees (47 percent) reporting this. About a third are bothered by other problems, including light reflecting off their computer screen; bright, glaring light; dry eyes; and blurry vision. Another 18 percent say their eyes tear, 16 percent have trouble with light reflecting off personal devices, and another 16 percent are bothered by reflections from outdoor surfaces. View chart 1.

A significant 29 percent of all respondents suffer from headaches due to visual disturbances. According to the National Headache Foundation, headaches cost the nation $17 billion in absenteeism, lost productivity and medical expenses. The foundation also reports that although 90 percent of employees say headaches affect their performance, only 33 percent tell their employers, indicating that this is a potentially bigger issue than businesses realize.

Afternoons were cited most often as the time of day during which employees said their eyes bothered them the most. View chart 2.

“With so many workers reporting visual disturbances, it’s not really surprising that more than half (53 percent) say they take breaks during the workday to rest their eyes, but it is a bit alarming that when we asked this question in 2011, only 29 percent were reporting breaks,” the researchers noted. “That means there has been a 45 percent increase in people taking breaks from their workday to rest their eyes in the past two years, potentially a result of today’s employees working longer hours and being exposed to more electronic devices.”

Further demonstrating the negative effect on productivity, most employees are taking multiple breaks throughout the day on account of vision problems. The average person takes two breaks per day, but nearly one-third (32 percent) are taking three or more breaks, and 13 percent are taking more than five, according to the findings. View chart 3.

Women are more likely to say they suffer from visual disturbances at work, but men are more likely to say they take breaks because of them.

The Kazi Personal Control Lighting Study reports that eye-focusing problems, which can occur with eyestrain and fatigue, may cause employees to lose up to 15 minutes of work time a day. The study reported that this translates into organizations losing more than $2,000 per year per affected employee.

Many visual disturbances can be alleviated by wearing the right eyewear, including lenses with an up-to-date prescription, according to the report.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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