The connection between health and workplace productivity

To give their best at work, everybody has to feel their best especially healthwise

Woman at work feeling unwellAs a manager or employer, you appreciate healthy employees who contribute their best to the company. At work, your superiors take into account your productivity, quality, timeliness, and effort when promotions and job assignments are decided.

Productivity at work can get greatly affected by your health. Paying attention to how health affects our work-life can provide clues for taking proactive and preventive steps towards improving our productivity.

Illness affects the team

When a person is sick, it affects productivity. Results of ill-health on work are

  • Days off from work
  • Time off to go to the doctor or for other medical appointments
  • Reduced concentration
  • Poor attention to detail that affects accuracy and safety.

This behaviour can adversely affect team efforts. Further, if the illness is contagious, others can get sick too.

Degree of physical illness

If a person is too sick to work or the condition is infectious, s/he most certainly should stay home or see a doctor to avoid infecting others. This would help in getting rest and returning to health/work as soon as possible. Some chronic illnesses and ailments are not so contagious/serious as to prevent the person from working; however, due to the illness, s/he may not work at his/her best. Seasonal allergies, chronic back pain, headaches — especially migraines— and other ailments contribute hugely to loss of employee productivity.

Mental health

An often-overlooked health aspect is mental health. Many people suffer symptoms such as anxiety, depression, stress, and confused thinking, which influence them in all areas of life including work. These symptoms may or may not qualify strictly as a mental illness but they do impact work adversely.

Depressed feelings of hopelessness, sadness, grief, and apathy affect work by slowing a person down. Some symptoms are:

  • Loss of concentration and focus
  • Reduced drive to do your best
  • Lack of attention to detail
  • Disregard about output or final outcomes
  • Weariness

All these symptoms can seriously affect a your performance and also that of those with whom you interact. Anxiety often contributes to loss of sleep, lack of care at work, hurried and incomplete projects that do not reflect the actual skill and/or talent of the person.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD is characterised by having obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours such as counting, ritualised behaviour, and unreasonable fear of germs that causes excessive avoidance. This kind of behaviour can take hours out of a person’s day, thereby diminishing completion of desired and required tasks. Of course, other anxiety issues can have an adverse effect on work output and workplace interactions. Social anxiety prevents us from interacting normally with co-workers, employers, managers, and the public and hence we may not be able to reach our full potential.


Stress negatively affects nearly all aspects of our work and reduces our output. As we know, stress reduces the quality of life in the here and now.  Our physical health is affected by stress as much as our physical health can lead to stress. There are many ways to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression, but we should consult with mental health professionals for proper guidance. As for the physical illnesses that we don’t have much control over, we must see a doctor.

Prevention is better…

Prevention is very important as it is clearly under our control. Getting enough sleep is primary; 7 – 8 hours of sleep is considered optimal for good health and an efficient immune system. If you are ill or recovering from an illness, sleep even more depending on the indications from your body. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables fuels our immune system and keeps us alert and vibrant. Exercise keeps a body toned, strong, and healthy. Even as little as 30 minutes a day of moderately vigorous movement show very effective health benefits.  If recovering from an illness or injury, consult your doctor for recommended rehabilitation strategies.


Another aspect of prevention is the avoidance of infection. To avoid infecting others, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Wash your hands thoroughly with hot water and soap, often. Sickness starts if you touch your eyes, nose or mouth after touching an infected surface. The highest number of germs is found at places like the computer keyboard or the telephone. Clean them with a disinfectant wipe or spray, once a week.

Family concerns

Very often, caretakers experience an increase in stress as they worry about their loved one who is ill. Short-term illnesses can often be absorbed into our daily stress—a mother may worry about her child who has a bit of cold but she takes it in her stride. But when the illness is chronic or severe, the attention required makes concentrating at work very difficult.

For a working parent

In my private practice, I have counselled many parents of children with special needs. The child’s chronic illness severely affects the quality of life of these parents. It is in this time that they most desperately need their work. Primary reason is the financial support. Also, work is a welcome diversion from the constant stress of dealing with illness. When faced with helplessness in resolving medical issues of a family member, people focus on an area of mastery such as their profession to deal with the situation.

Elderly care

Many of us have to take care of elderly parents, and this brings different set of challenges associated with illnesses of old age. These caretakers have to take responsibility for their aging parents, and in some ways, it is similar to taking care of a sick child. When the demands of dealing with an ill family member begin to affect workplace performance, we must seek help and support.

Parting shot

We discussed the benefits of taking care of oneself for prevention of illness, but the same advice holds for regaining strength and vitality if a loved one is sick. Sleep well, eat right, and get plenty of exercise to be your best.

Companies care

Happy man at workRegardless of the type of illness, companies should offer some consideration to a sick person at work. Sometimes it is appropriate to modify the workload or specifics of the job to allow the person to perform. Many companies offer help to employees through assistance programmes, medical insurance, sick days, leaves of absences, and modified assignments. If the work environment takes into consideration that people can and do get ill, it shows that companies are responsive to their employees and regard them as people, not robots.

This was first published in the July 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

Stephen Trudeau
Stephen Trudeau is a clinical psychologist, radio host, television personality, author, and much sought after public speaker. He works closely with many business leaders to help maximize their leadership potential.


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