Six chronic conditions that may be affecting your workforce

Employee managing depression, anxiety or migraines

Employees working through medical conditions can cost employers in terms of lost productivity and reduced output. Being aware of the conditions that may be causing presenteeism is the first step to helping them stay healthy and productive.

But here’s the hard part — the condition may not be all that noticeable. Maybe the employee is being short with their co-workers, or you can’t find them at their desk. You don’t have any physical evidence that there’s something going on, but you want to address it.

On the outside, these employees may not be exhibiting physical symptoms that point you to a specific medical condition or problem. But there are a few chronic conditions that could be silently affecting your workforce. Here are six common conditions that could impact your workforce and solutions you can use to help your employees.

Type 2 diabetes

In 2012, 1.7 million people were diagnosed with diabetes, and statistics show that at least 1 out of 3 people will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime.1 Not only are the costs associated with diabetes profound, this disease puts a person at risk for serious health complications, including blindness, stroke and loss of toes, feet or legs.2 Individuals who are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes may benefit from losing weight, eating healthy and being more physically active.


More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.3 Obesity can lead to more serious problems such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. But even before these issues surface, obesity can take a toll on an employee. Excess weight also is linked to emotional and social issues, which can result in an employee being less productive.4

How can you help employees with obesity or type 2 diabetes?

Wellness programs that include weight loss challenges, lunch-and-learns about healthy eating or discounted gym memberships are a great start. Additionally, biometric health screenings can open your employees’ eyes to things like high blood sugar, high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Awareness can be an effective motivator for healthier behaviors.


Inpatient hospital care for major depressive disorder accounts for 395,000 cases, which have an average stay of 6.5 days — which may be just a portion of time an employee will be out of work for this condition.5 Depression may be difficult to spot in the workplace because it can show up as a variety of symptoms. Anger and frustration, lack of energy, sleep issues, restlessness, excessive worrying and difficulty concentrating are just a few examples. Additionally, depression can manifest itself in physical ways, too, including back pain or headaches.6


Anxiety disorders — which include panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder and PTSD — affect 40 million adults in the U.S. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders are three to five times more likely to visit their doctor and are six times more likely to be hospitalized than those without these health concerns.7 This could result in short- or long-term disability leaves or intermittent leaves, which can be costly and difficult for your company to manage.

How can you help employees with depression or anxiety?

First, be prepared to have an open dialogue with an employee if it has come to your attention that their behavior has changed. If an employee is out on leave for an anxiety- or depression-related concern, don’t underestimate the power of ongoing support, guidance and encouragement, like we discussed in this post about mental health recovery.

Back pain

Did you know that back pain is the second most frequent medical complaint, and other than the common cold, it’s one of the biggest reasons for missed work?8 Low back pain is often associated with the general degeneration of the spine as we age.9 It’s normal wear and tear. But back pain also can be caused by strains, herniated or ruptured disks, and other mechanical causes. As discussed in a recent case study, back pain can make it difficult for employees to concentrate and be productive, and it may result in intermittent or extended disability leaves.


Did you know approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population suffers from migraines?.10 These headaches, which can be quite severe, may include throbbing or pulsing pain, sensitivity to light and sound, and even nausea or vomiting.10 As a result, migraines can result in lowered productivity at work or intermittent leaves. Many things may trigger migraines, such as anxiety, stress and lack of sleep.10

How can you help employees with back pain or migraines?

Focusing on prevention is a great place to start, with education about things like safe lifting being a key component. Offer accommodations when necessary. A good example of this can be found in this blog post about intermittent leave for migraines. And finally, early intervention can result in better outcomes, as I discussed in this post about collaboration for back pain care.

Even though the causes of these chronic diseases are different, the effect of them in the workplace is the same — employees may not be as productive as they would be otherwise. And no matter what the cause, you have the unique opportunity to advocate for them while supporting and guiding them through the challenges posed by these common chronic conditions. Step 1 is understanding what these common conditions are, and Step 2 is opening a dialogue with your employees — a topic I’ll discuss in my next post.

1 CDC website. 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report. http://templatelab.com/national-diabetes-report-2014/. Page updated May 15, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015.

2 CDC website. Prediabetes: Could it be you? [Infographic]. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/images/prediabetes-inforgraphic.jpg Page updated May 15, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015.

3 CDC website. Adult Obesity Facts. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html. Page updated June 16, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015.

4 National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Understanding Adult Overweight and Obesity. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/weight-control/understanding/Pages/understanding-adult-overweight-and-obesity.aspx Page updated December 2012. Accessed July 9, 2015.

5 CDC website. FastStats: Depression. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/depression.htm. Page updated April 29, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015.

6 Mayo Clinic. Diseases and Conditions: Depression (major depressive disorder). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/basics/symptoms/con-20032977 Published April 17, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015.

7 Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Facts & Statistics. http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics Accessed July 9, 2015.

8 Cleveland Clinic. Chronic Back Pain. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_your_back_and_neck/chronic-back-pain-overview. Accessed July 9, 2015.

9 National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke. Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/backpain/detail_backpain.htm. Updated April 17, 2015. Accessed July 30, 2015.

10 National Institute of Health. MedlinePlus: Migraine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/migraine.html. Updated July 31, 2015. Accessed August 6, 2015.

One Comment

  1. 2/24/16

    These are indeed common problems encountered by employees. But by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle plus daily exercises, these pain and diseases can be minimized and avoided.

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