6 Reasons Why Work Is Making You Sick (And How to Fix It)

Addressing Healthcare Issues in the Workplace

In today’s business world, there are plenty of things to be sick about. Urgent deadlines (even when some aren’t urgent), constant interruptions (how many times do you need to hear about Steve’s weekend?!), way too many meetings, endless politics that waste precious energy that could be aimed at the actual work – not to mention an all-around lack of sleep. These reasons, and so many more, can lead to workers who are just plain miserable.

So when we say that the workplace is full of “healthcare” issues, we mean a bit more than benefits. The health of any office is tied to a number of factors beyond the doctor’s office, and it would seem that even the best insurance plans can’t protect against the evils of limited vacation time or long commutes. Before we get into an ideal solution for these maladies, let’s diagnose the problem.

The Issues

Aging parents

Many employees are now facing a problem with their older parents who are increasingly requiring time and attention. While this is a personal problem, it does affect the workplace and the workplace culture. Employees feel as if they can’t take time off work when they need to in order to care for their parents. The main problem here is a lack of communication between employees and their bosses.

Sleep Deprivation

In today’s work culture, many employees are coming into work “hungover” from a lack of sleep. People are sleeping less and less these days. When workers come to work sleep deprived, they are not as efficient at producing results . People that often find it difficult to sleep are also more prone to depression, which can affect social and work life. To make matters worse, driving with sleep deprivation is equivalent to driving while intoxicated.


Speaking of driving, long commutes can not only make employees tired when they arrive to work, but studies also show that commuting can lead to a risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and an early death. These studies show that sitting for long periods of time can  increase your risk for these medical problems. Long commutes also affect the diets of  drivers, which can lead to health issues.


Often times, an employee’s stress from outside of work can come into the office. This becomes a work environment issue because it affects job performance, and it can spill over and start impacting other employees. When paired with already existing work stress, the outside stress can put a lot of strain on an employee and cause work to slip.

Sick Time

Not every employee is offered paid time off for sick days, which can cause not only a workplace problem, but also a personal problem. Employees need time to recover from being sick; however, if they are not offered paid days to do this, then there is a chance they will come into the office before they should. This causes two problems: First, they will not be as productive as possible because they are not feeling well. Second, by coming into the office, they are risking the health of everyone else.

Vacation Time

Some employees have a fear of taking vacation time because it will make them look like slackers. By the end of 2011, approximately 57% of working Americans had unused vacation days. By not taking vacation time, employees can become over-worked and over-stressed, which can lead to bigger health issues. So, there’s the problem. Work culture is broken and what we have experienced is that ROWE addresses each of these health issues in the workplace.

The Solution:

Employees need the freedom to work when they need to and where they need to. Instead of worrying about an employee  coming in on time, working from 8 to 5, or leaving early, workplaces need to promote an environment that allows employees to focus primarily on their work. This leads to less time worrying about arbitrary rules and more time taking care of the things in life that cause workers stress. In a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), the company culture supports behavior changes that promote good health. In a study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, changes in the behaviors of employees who had gone through ROWE training were then measured against the behaviors of those who hadn’t gone through training . The data shows that a Results-Only Work Environment isn’t just a morale booster, it’s a way to improve the health and productivity of your workforce.

7 health benefits reported in the study

  1. More Sleep – participants in the study gained nearly an extra hour of sleep on average on work nights.
  2. Energy – improved sleep quality and energy for participants.
  3. Better health – participants reported better overall health than their counterparts who did not have the benefits of a ROWE.
  4. Guilt-free time off – participants felt less obligated to work when sick. (This is a big deal when taking into account the costs of presenteeism and the need to care for aging parents.)
  5. Early treatment – participants were more likely to go to the doctor and receive treatment for illness (even when they were busy at work). When employees have control over their time and can get their work done in a way that makes sense for them, they tend to get treatment when they need it. Early treatment means better health and reduced medical costs in the long run.
  6. Reduced stress – employees who had gone through ROWE training had an increased sense of control of their time and reduced work-family conflict.
  7. Mental well-being – participants in a ROWE suffered from less emotional exhaustion and psychological distress. What employees need (and are increasingly demanding) is complete control over their time, so they can decide how to best manage every aspect of their lives, including work and wellness. This scenario is possible when workers are measured on the results they produce, not the amount of time spent at a desk.
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Jody Thompson

Jody Thompson, along with her partner Cali Ressler, is the Founder of CultureRx and co-creator of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Jody is a nationally recognized keynote speaker and bestselling author. She has been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, Hybrid Mom Magazine, HR Executive Magazine, and the New York Times. You can find her on Linkedin.

Reader Interactions


  1. AFA Julie says

    These are all great points Jody. At American Fidelity, we’ve moved closer to a ROWE environment over the years although we aren’t fully there. We’ve seen an improvement in morale from our telecommuting and flexible schedule programs, which also help us stay open longer for customers. Colleagues can only roll over a certain amount of vacation time because we want them to actually use the time. We also started tracking time in some areas, not to watch for employees who aren’t working enough, but to track areas where they are overworked and may face burnout. This helps us know where to hire new Colleagues or adjust resources.

  2. Jody Thompson says

    Julie – thanks for you comment – it definitely sounds like American Fidelity is moving in the right direction. Companies have no choice but to look at ways to create a workplace where people are engaged and motivated versus burned out and stressed out. Kudos!



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