These 9 health complaints could be hurting your career success—and one culprit is fueling most of them

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Underperforming at work? One or more of nine health issues are likely to blame, with stress a potential precursor to nearly all of them, according to a new study out of Japan.

Researchers with the University of Tsukuba analyzed the data of more than 12,500 Japanese workers, gathered from health insurance claims, questionnaires, and reports from employee stress and health check-ups, which are mandated by the government.

Workers who reported the highest levels of unproductivity at work were likely to suffer from one or more of the following nine complaints, they found. From most common to least:

  1. Depressive symptoms
  2. Lack of appetite
  3. Insufficient sleep
  4. Heart palpitations and/or shortness of breath
  5. Dizziness
  6. Joint pain
  7. Headache
  8. Stomach/intestine problems
  9. Diarrhea and/or constipation

Men who reported high levels of unproductivity at work also commonly reported one or more of these four additional symptoms:

  • Mental illness
  • Lower back pain
  • Eye strain
  • Stiff neck and/or shoulders

The following types of people were more likely to report lagging productivity at work:

  • Men
  • Older adults
  • Managers (vs. non managerial employees)
  • Customer service professionals (vs. administration and sales)

A recommended shift in focus

Employers may be able to improve employee productivity by focusing on stress reduction, rather than the elimination of lifestyle-related disease risk factors like smoking and a sedentary lifestyle, researchers suggested. That’s because nearly every symptom distracting employees of both genders can stem from stress.

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry recommends that companies attempt to improve employee health by encouraging proper diet and exercise, in addition to curbing excessive work hours.

But researchers also recommend that employers focus on improving mental health, stress levels, and sleep among employees. Sleep problems in particular may indirectly or directly lead to:

  • Working long hours
  • Work overload
  • Interpersonal conflicts
  • Low job satisfaction

A 2021 study published in the Kansas Journal of Medicine also found that employees who reported more stress were significantly more likely to be unproductive at work.

The following factors can cause work-related stress, according to the World Health Organization:

  • Poor work organization (the way jobs and work systems are designed and managed)
  • Poor work design (lack of control over work processes)
  • Poor management
  • Poor working conditions
  • Lack of support from colleagues and supervisors
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