Causes and Impacts of Workplace Health Issues [2023 Report]
In a dream world, we could vaccinate against toxic colleagues, take a wonder pill to achieve work-life balance, and get a very brave employee sticker every day.
In reality, there's no sure cure for separating work from other areas of life. And it turns out that your job can make you sick. Literally.
Deadline by deadline, endless meetings, a heavy workload. Not enough sleep, not eating during the day, no time for fun. Sounds familiar? You're not alone. According to the Gallup Report: State of the Global Workplace 2022, stress among the world's workers is at an all-time high.
Is poor health the price we pay for work? Let's find out.
Here's a small dose of unsettling data to set the stage:
- In a Statista survey of US employees from 2022, around 23% reported their self-assessed level of burnout to be very high or high.
- Mental Health America's 2022 Mind the Workplace Report unveiled that 4 in 10 employees claim workplace stress affects their relationships with friends, family, and coworkers.
- The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that work absences from illness are at an all-time annual high in the US. Also, about 1.5 million Americans missed work because of sickness in December 2022.
- EU-OSHA data reveals that work-related diseases account for 2.4 million deaths worldwide every year.
To get the big picture of the relationship between work and health, at ResumeNow, we surveyed over 1,000 US workers and examined:
- Condition of employees' health and well-being in 2023
- Opinions on how work impacts physical and mental health
- Employer's actions to support workforce health
- Health-related absence from work
- Faking being sick versus working despite being sick
- What companies should do to support employees' overall well-being better
Keep reading to check out what our study on work-related health issues revealed.
Employees' health and well-being: 2023 statistics
The first part of the survey covered physical and mental health. Participants could play doctors for a moment and rate their overall condition. What were the diagnoses then?
- 83% of respondents self-assessed their physical health as good or very good.
Interestingly, there were disparities in answers given within different demographic groups. Let's take a closer look.
- Age: 41 or older—87% vs. 25 or younger—77%.
- Industry: business & finance—86% vs. education—73%
- Company size: 11–50 employees—88% vs. 1–10 employees—76%
- Type of work: on-site—88% vs. remotely—79%
Time to focus on mental health now.
- 75% of survey takers rate their mental health as good or very good.
And again, not everyone feels the same way. Have a look.
- Age: 41 or older—78% vs. 25 or younger—71%
- Industry: business & finance—83% vs. software/IT—74%
- Company size: 51–200 employees—83% vs. 201+ employees—67%
- Annual income: $50,000 to $74,999—78% vs. less than $25,000—71%
- Ethnicity: ethnic minorities—84% vs. white—73%
- Type of work: blue collar—78% vs. hybrid of white and blue collar—59%
The oldest respondents (41+) and business & finance industry employees seemed most satisfied with their physical and mental health. Congratulations!
There are some surprising research findings to comment on.
The study proved that age-based assumptions might be misleading. "Energetic, active, and healthy" youngsters can feel the opposite of what you'd expected.
"Younger employees report more overall stress and work-related burnout than older generations. 68% of Gen Z and younger millennials report feeling stressed a lot of the time. This should concern leaders. Stress and burnout influence job performance and long-term career growth. In addition, burnout is correlated with physical health risks and poor personal relationships."
– Gallup, "Generation Disconnected: Data on Gen Z in the Workplace"
On the other hand, older generations may surprise you with their vitality and positive outlook on life. There's no rule or pattern we should stick to. Treat age as "just a number" instead. That's the safest option.
What some may also find a little counter-intuitive, on-site workers assessed their physical health much better than those working remotely (88% vs. 79%). Let's shed some light on its possible reasons.
According to the 2022 Bupa Wellbeing Index, working from home is as dangerous to health as smoking. Almost 1 in 5 (19%) remote workers are exercising less, as a result sitting down more, which increases the risk of diabetes, blood clots, and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, 31% claim they tend to eat more at home. Less exercise and more calories is hardly the ticket to good health.
Let's go back to our study now and dive deeper into the research findings.
- As many as a full 75% of employees believed their health problems were work-related. But for ethnic minorities, the number was even higher (85%).
- Only 7% overall declared they had no health problems.
- 84% of participants claimed they took medicines for health problems that they cited as work-related. Shockingly, in the case of the manufacturing industry, the percentage was 99%.
Working to earn money. Spending money on medicines. Taking medicines to get back to work.
It's a vicious circle.
How come? Well, money doesn't grow on trees. And bills won't pay themselves.
Moving on, we wanted our respondents to get into detail about the physical health issues they face. When asked, "Which of the following health problems do you suffer from?" they could check all that applied. Here's what we found out:
- Back problems – 45%
[manufacturing – 56% vs. education – 29%)
- Vision problems – 30%
[manufacturing – 41% vs. business & finance – 25%]
- Migraines – 27%
[white collar 31% vs. blue collar 24%]
- Hearing problems – 27%
[manufacturing – 35% vs. software/IT – 20%]
- Autoimmune disease – 24%
[manufacturing – 44% vs. software/IT – 14%]
- Cancer – 17%
[manufacturing – 34% vs. software/IT – 10%]
As you can see, back pain and vision impairment were reported as the most common physical health issues. At the same time, a lucky 24% of respondents claimed they didn't suffer from any of the above-mentioned health problems.
Doesn't everything make perfect sense? It is like all the puzzle pieces falling into place.
The issues caused by exposure to physical hazards are more prevalent in manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs. They're also more likely to be paid less. Considering how expensive health care in the US is, health problems could be more problematic for them.
We also asked if work had a negative, positive, or neutral impact on our research participants' physical health. The answers were the following:
- Positive – 48%
- Neutral – 45%
- Negative – 7%
Noteworthy, 19% of employees earning less than $25,000 and 17% of those working in the manufacturing industry declared work had a negative impact on their health. That's triple the negative impact reported overall.
Now let's move on to mental health issues.
The McKinsey Health Institute 2022 global survey on mental health and well-being found that around 60% of employees had experienced at least one mental-health challenge at some point in their lives.
Mental health affects most of us, so let's examine this important matter.
The research procedure was exactly the same. First, our helpful participants answered the question, "Which of the following mental health problems do you suffer from?". Here's what they reported:
- Stress – 50%
[manufacturing – 67% vs. education – 35%]
- Depression – 46%
[blue collar – 58% vs. white collar – 42%]
- Anxiety – 32%
[manufacturing – 42% vs. healthcare – 22%]
- Insomnia – 27%
[manufacturing – 38% vs. education – 19%]
- Compulsive behavior(s) – 24%
[manufacturing – 41% vs. software/IT – 14%]
- Burnout – 22%
[manufacturing – 35% vs. software/IT – 16% | healthcare – 16%]
15% of participants declared they didn't suffer from any of the above-mentioned health problems. Not everyone was in such a lucky position, though. The manufacturing industry employees seemed to be in the worst physical and mental condition compared to participants from other sectors. The numbers speak for themselves. Worrying.
Regarding the influence of work on their mental health, 46% of the surveyed viewed it as positive, 44% as neutral, and 10% as negative. Participants earning less than $25,000 didn't share positive opinions. 28% of them claimed that work impacted their mental health negatively. Again, triple the overall number.
Not a great surprise. Growing recession fears and economically challenging times are nerve-wracking for most of us. The situation is getting even worse for people with lower earnings.
The survey also included a section devoted to workplace injuries.
- 64% of respondents claimed they'd been injured at work.
- What's not so shocking, blue-collar workers (74%) reported workplace injuries more often than white-collar workers (63%).
- Education industry employees were the biggest group of participants who had been injured at work (85%). That's intriguing, indeed.
Below, you can find some noteworthy findings about workplace injuries, including disabling ones, from other studies.
EU-OSHA claims that the number of workplace accidents has decreased by 25% over the last 10 years.
According to Statista, the top 3 causes of the most disabling US workplace injuries in 2022 included:
- overexertion involving outside sources (22%)
- falls on some level (18%)
- being struck by an object or equipment (10%).
All these numbers may seem a bit scary. But how do employees feel about the influence of work on health? High time to find out.
Opinions on how work affects our health
Let's check out what employees really think about how work affects our well-being.
According to respondents, work can cause…
- depression – 81%
- mental illness – 74%
- autoimmune disease – 63%
- a heart attack – 62%
- cancer – 55%
In fact, respondents' perceptions don't match reality. It is scientifically proven that all of those health-related problems can be triggered by work and workplace hazards. Just have a look.
What causes diseases at work?
Many types of disease, including cancer, respiratory disorders, cardiovascular disease, skin diseases, musculoskeletal disorders, and mental health problems, can be caused or made worse by work. Although the underlying causes of such diseases may be complex, certain workplace exposures are known to contribute to the development or progression of a disease, including:
- dangerous substances, such as chemical and biological agents, including carcinogens
- radiation, including ionizing radiation and ultraviolet radiation from the sun
- physical factors, including vibration, noise, manual lifting, and sedentary work
- work organizational and psychosocial risk factors, such as shift work and stress.
Moving back to other noteworthy research findings of ours:
- A full 96% of respondents employed as a hybrid of white and blue-collar workers believed work could cause depression.
- 80% of the education sector workers agreed that because of work, you might suffer from autoimmune disease. 79% of participants working in small companies (1–50 employees) shared such an opinion.
- Ethnic minorities (81%), employees of small companies (80%), and those without college degrees (78%) were more convinced than other demographic groups that work could cause a heart attack.
- 77% of survey-takers belonging to ethnic minorities and 76% working in the education industry claimed work could cancer.
Respondents were also asked which aspects of work might, in their opinion, have the worst influence on one's mental health. They could pick up two options at most. The answers were the following:
- Work-related stress – 38%
[healthcare – 49%]
- Work overload – 37%
[software/IT – 42%]
- Workplace gossip – 23%
- Low earnings – 23%
[manufacturing – 30%]
- Poor management – 18%
[blue collar – 31% vs. white collar – 17%]
- Lack of effective communication – 18%
[education – 27%]
- Workplace conflict with colleagues – 17%
- Being a victim of discrimination and/or bullying – 13%
[education – 22%]
As you can see, the workplace is rather a torture rack than a bed of roses.
The list of factors that can take our mental peace away and contribute to stress seems never-ending. Do employers minimize possible health damage done by work? Keep reading to find out.
Health-related issues in the workplace
Let's take the temperature of workers' sentiments toward their company now. How do employers treat health-related issues?
- 80% of respondents agreed their employer cared for their physical health. Almost as many (78%) claimed the same about their mental health. Well done, dear employers! Keep up the good work.
- What's interesting is, Master's degree holders seemed noticeably happier with their employer's attitude to their mental health than respondents with no college degree—88% vs. 70% of positive answers. Does education open doors to better career opportunities? Maybe. Still, we can't take it for granted.
Not bad so far. It's time to focus on actions, as they speak louder than words.
Participants were asked about what their employer provided them with.
- 85% of respondents had access to health insurance. It's not the case for everyone, though. Health insurance was available for only 60% of those with no college degree. Interestingly, there were also disparities within different demographic groups. White-collar workers had better access to health insurance than blue-collar workers—86% vs. 76%. The same tendency could be observed in the case of corporations and small companies—87% vs. 76%.
- 82% of participants were provided by their employer with access to mental health professionals. The percentage was higher in the case of the manufacturing industry workers (94%).
- 81% of the surveyed had access to some wellness programs. And again, for the manufacturing industry workers, the numbers were higher—92%.
As the US Department of Labor and the US Department of Health and Human Services report, the emphasis on wellness has grown with time. Today, 80% of US companies employing more than 50 people offer corporate wellness programs.
Some other research findings to mention here:
- Almost 9 in 10 (86%) respondents reported that their employer conducted employee satisfaction surveys. That's great news. The more you know about your workforce's needs and feelings, the more you can do to create a positive work environment.
- In general, most survey takers believed that their employer cared about their overall well-being very much. There were no significant differences across industries and other demographics.
Promising, isn't it?
Let's move on to the topic of workplace absenteeism now.
Health-related absence from work
Let's have a look at absences from work due to sickness. Here are some alarming data to start with.
About 7.8 million workers missed work in January 2022 because they had an illness, injury, or medical problem or appointment, up from 3.7 million in January 2021.
–U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
These numbers are concerning, to put it mildly.
In this study, we also wanted to investigate the topic of health-related absences from work. When asked, "How many days were you absent from work due to sickness in 2022?" participants replied as follows:
- None – 5%
- 1–3 days – 31%
- 3–6 days – 49%
- 1–2 weeks – 14%
- More than two weeks – 1%
We didn't focus on the specific reasons for the absences. But Statista is here to help.
According to Statista's research on workplace health and wellness, the COVID-19 pandemic (including long COVID) and work-related stress were the major causes of absenteeism in the years 2020 – 2022.
The tricky part is to determine when the illness is real and when it's fake. Mission impossible. And a matter of trust.
So let's have a look at faking being sick to avoid work now.
Faking being sick versus working despite being sick
One day, you need a nap, the other, only a sick leave can help. Even if what you "suffer" from is… the inability to roll out of bed.
Absolute honesty doesn't always go hand in hand with professionalism, right?
It seems that respondents are pretty aware of that fact. When asked, "Have you ever faked being sick to avoid work?", 68% of participants said yes. Let's dig deeper.
- The prize for the greatest fakers across industries goes to employees of the education sector. As many as a full 96% of them claimed they had pretended illness to avoid work duties.
- Most respondents who faked health problems admitted doing it twice (57%) in the past year. 22% reported they'd done it three times, and 18% malingered once.
- Only 3% of participants faked being sick to avoid work four times or more. However, the percentage was noticeably higher in the case of those with no college degree (14%).
Liar, liar, pants on fire…
Let's change the perspective and switch to working despite being sick now.
We asked research participants if they still worked though they were actually sick. 76% claimed they did. The numbers were even higher for workers of companies employing 1–10 people (93%), the education sector (92%), as well as respondents earning less than $25,000 (91%).
Regarding the scale of the phenomenon, it turned out that in the past year, respondents worked despite health problems…
- Once – 22%
- Twice – 44%
- Three times – 28%
- Four times or more – 6%
Workplace Pinocchios on the one end, over-busy bees on the other. Are you on any of these teams?
One of the greatest problems with the US labor market is that there is no federal law that guarantees paid time off from work. Not a single day. As a result, employees frequently show up to work feeling ill, going through some stressful situation, and experiencing physical or emotional pain.
It all leads to presenteeism, which should undoubtedly be discouraged.
Presenteeism refers to the lost productivity that occurs when employees are not fully functioning in the workplace because of an illness, injury, or other condition. Even though the employee may be physically at work, they may not be able to fully perform their duties and are more likely to make mistakes on the job.
Presenteeism costs the US economy an estimated $150 billion in lost productivity every year. Not to mention the price employees pay for it in physical and mental health currency.
In their own words
Let's go back to our study. In one of the survey sections, participants could share their experience with the negative influence of work on their health. The floor is theirs.
"I have been overworked a few times to the point I started having panic attacks."
"I am just burnt out. I've worked every single day, no exaggerating, for the last year and a half, not even Christmas off because I needed the money, but I'm tired, and I'm getting really cranky. I find myself falling asleep on my laptop, I don't sleep right, and I don't eat right cause I'm constantly stressed out. It makes my anxiety worse, knowing that all my work, when I turn it in, can get rejected and thrown in a dumpster somewhere because the person decides they don't want it or that's not the right answer for them."
"Sometimes it's like I can feel my blood pressure going sky-high. I have to worry about pleasing everybody at work because I need the money to survive, to be able to eat the next day. I'm so stressed, that is absolutely ridiculous."
"I know a friend who suffers mental torture because of work. Every day he is going to work with fear and depression. Because his family is running only on his salary."
"My father was once under contract to replace a heating system on the house in minus 20-degree weather. He completed the job alone because he had no other choice, when he came home, his fingers were so badly frostbitten I had to peel off the skin and wrap them. My father was fortunate I had medical training from college and was able to save all his fingers. His employer never acknowledges putting him in danger to complete that job, and he soon found a better company to work for."
Such heartbreaking stories can make you speechless. Taking action is a must. And it's the employer's duty to do the right things.
What can employers do to support our health better?
Time for the big question. What can companies do to support their employees' health better?
Let's check out if there is any remedy.
According to our research participants, employers should…
- fully cover their employees' health insurance—83%.
- provide their employees with free access to mental healthcare professionals—83%.
- provide their employees with free access to wellness programs—78%.
Digging deeper, we asked what the most effective ways to support employees' health were. Each respondent could choose up to two options. The answers were as follows:
- Free mental healthcare – 40%
[healthcare – 54%]
- Flexible work arrangements – 33%
- Wellness programs – 29%
[manufacturing – 35%; business & finance – 35%]
- Promoting positive work culture – 26%
- More paid time off – 21%
- Reimbursements for medicine expenses – 19%
[education – 30%]
- Providing mental health training for leaders – 16%
[education – 26%]
- Other – 3%
The last question of our survey regarded remote work arrangements. As many as 82% of participants believed remote work had a positive influence on employees' mental health.
Dear employers, take note. There's no greater investment than satisfied employees. Whatever works for them, in the long run, will also work for your company.
Work-related diseases have no gender, no age, and no mercy.
Today it could be me, tomorrow you.
Still, more and more companies understand that the future of work is employee well-being.
In The Future Workplace 2021 HR Sentiment survey, 68% of senior HR leaders (of which 40% were CHROs) rated employee well-being and mental health as top priorities.
Are modern workplaces on the road to recovery, then? Time will show.
One thing is for sure. When health is at stake, prevention is always better than cure.
And what's the final diagnosis? Heath is wealth. Take care of yourselves.
A few words before you go. Here's a recap of what our study unveiled.
- Half of the respondents revealed they suffered from work-related stress. At the same time, almost as many (46%) admitted having depression.
- Back problems (45%) and vision problems (30%) were reported as the most common physical health issues.
- Manufacturing workers faced the most dramatic situation of all demographic groups. Because of the nature of their work, they're more prone to various physical and mental health-related problems than others.
- 68% of survey takers confessed they had faked being sick to avoid work in the past year.
- In the past year, 76% of research participants went to work despite being sick.
- More than 8 in 10 (83%) respondents claimed that an employer should provide them with free access to mental healthcare professionals.
- 1 in 3 (33%) participants viewed flexible work arrangements as the most effective way to support employees' health. Also, 82% believed remote work had a positive influence on employees' mental health.
- More than half (55%) of the surveyed were of the opinion that work could cause cancer.
The above-presented findings were obtained by surveying 1011 respondents online via a bespoke polling tool. They were asked questions about the influence of work on their health. These included yes/no questions, scale-based questions relating to levels of agreement with a statement, questions that permitted the selection of multiple options from a list of potential answers, and a question that allowed open responses. All respondents included in the study passed an attention-check question.
The data presented relies on self-reports from a randomized group of respondents. Each person who took our survey read and responded to each question without any research administration or interference. There are many potential issues with self-reported data like selective memory, exaggeration, attribution, or telescoping. Some questions and responses have been rephrased or condensed for clarity and ease of understanding for readers.
Fair use statement
Want to share the findings of our research? Go ahead. Feel free to use our images and information wherever you wish. Just link back to this page, please—it will let other readers get deeper into the topic. Additionally, remember to use this content exclusively for non-commercial purposes.
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