10 Biggest Health Problems from Working in an Office
If you work in an office, you may have heard of a woman who died at her desk due to stress and working long hours. This case, plus many others that have made news headlines in the past, highlights something that medical professionals have been telling us for years; sitting at a desk is killing us, literally. If you want to avoid an untimely demise under the florescent lights of that cubicle you love, read our blog article on the top 10 biggest health problems, pre-existing conditions, and chronic conditions that can come from working in an office, the ways to prevent them, as well why employee benefits and health insurance is important.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)
Yes, you may think that this condition only affects the heavyset woman in the cubicle next to you, but actually CTS is becoming a very common issue with today’s modern office worker.
First documented en-masse after World War II, the issue was not taken seriously until the 1970s. Up to that point it was thought to be just another excuse used by wimpy office workers to miss a day on the job. Turn to the days of the desktop computer and CTS has become an increasingly serious issue.
Medical professionals describe CTS as pressure on the median nerve – the nerve in the wrist that supplies feeling and movement to parts of the hand. It can lead to numbness, tingling, weakness, or muscle damage in the hand and fingers (at least it doesn’t make you go blind). Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is caused by performing a motion repeatedly over and over again; motions which may be familiar to male readers spending any amount of time on websites with dubious content.
Although other factors can play a part in CTS, in the workplace it is the endless hours spent on spreadsheets, word documents and emails that have led to the explosion of the condition in the last 20 years. Those with CTS may consider physiotherapy as a treatment option, which you can learn about here.
Experts say that before you treat Carpal Tunnel with acupuncture, drugs or surgery, stretching and other exercises may help release tension in the wrist. Contrary to what many believe, your wrists shouldn’t actually rest on those cushy wrist pads that sit below your keyboard or mouse pad. They should actually be used as a guide for how high your wrists should be; i.e. The hands should hover over the wrist when at rest and the pads should only be used as a tool to rest your wrists in between bouts of typing.
While you may think that lower-back pain only affected your father after he “single-handedly wrestled with a full-grown grizzly bear”, it has become an increasing problem for office workers of all ages. Experts say that this is due to the increase in sedentary positions; namely, sitting on your ass for more than a few hours of the day. Add to that an increase in bad posture, and the result can be devastating to your body over time. Employers should be mindful of this as well since, according to Georgetown University, back pain is among the top reasons for employees having to miss work (at least that is what they claim to be missing work for). It isn’t just slouching either, sitting up straight but curving your back too much can also lead lower-back pain.
George Costanza had it right when he complained about back pain from his legendary wallet. Experts say that having large items in your back pocket such as a wallet, or smart phone, while sitting increases back pain as it puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Besides being better aware of your posture as you’re sitting at your desk, getting regular exercise, including abdominal strengthening activities, should relieve some of the pressure on your lower back.
Make sure you stand often; the simple act of standing improves blood flow and engages your muscles from feet to trunk. If you do not have a reason to get up, make one! Moving your desk items such as printer, scotch tape, fax machine away from your desk, as well as getting up to talk to someone instead of sending them an email can help you get up and around more often.
The chair that you sit in is also very important; it should help support good posture and not reinforce bad ones.
Those of us who have to look at spreadsheets for hours on end will most certainly have felt, at some point, that the numbers were burning holes in our eyes.
Programmers sorting through thousands of lines of code on a mountain dew fuelled 3am coding binge are well aware of the melty eye phenomenon. Well, the feeling that your eyes may be, literally, melting out of your head isn’t too far off from reality; staring at a computer screen for long periods of time can lead to blurry and overly sensitive eyes, too-watery or too-dry eyes, headaches or a sore neck according to the Mayo Clinic.
To prevent eyestrain at your computer, increase your font size so you don’t have to squint. You should also rest your eyes frequently by looking away from your computer screen, which, coincidentally, is a perfect excuse when your boss catches you taking a little catnap, “I was just resting my eyes to reduce eyestrain, boss.” If he doesn’t believe you, make sure he knows that as a worse case it can cause dizziness, fatigue or vomiting and is often attributed to learning and attention problems. Your office IT department may also recommend switching the text on your screen to white, while changing the background to black as a method to reduce eye strain; but if you’re using a CTR computer monitor, changing this set up often may cause the monitor to explode.
When thinking about the world’s dirtiest jobs, working in an office generally doesn’t jump into most people’s minds, but “the office” in terms of bacteria and germs, is 400 times dirtier than your toilet. While generally not the breeding ground for the Ebola virus, desks are a rampant with germs, due in part to eating at your desk which can turn it into a bacteria cafeteria. It isn’t the fact that you’re eating food at your desk which is dirty, but rather the issue is that the aftermath of your delicious desk meal is rarely cleaned up; leaving lots of tasty crumbs for those hungry, hungry microbes.
According to experts, the phone is the dirtiest item sitting on your desk, your keyboard is next, and the mouse and the computer follow. Food remnants can get into hard to reach areas of your desk and can attract rats, roaches and other creepy crawlers when the lights go out, which leads to unintended exposure to their germs. Add to this the coworker who never washes their hands after using the toilet and you don’t stand a chance. At the end of the day, your office is a bacterial battleground, and you are the most tempting target.
If you frequently eat your lunch at your desk, you may want to make sure you have hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes to wipe down your work surface daily. A clean desk ensures you’re not exposed to nasty germs daily, and also helps us declutter. That can also protect you from germs sprayed into the air by your coughing and sneezing coworkers. If your office has a communal kitchen sink with a sponge, use paper towels instead, just to stay safe from bacteria. And tell that dirty non-hand washing salesman to wise up, or else.
Also, if you bring your own lunch, remember that raw and cooked foods need to remain refrigerated; leaving them out for two hours or more is a food safety no-no.
Phones ringing, loud printers, annoying coworkers and other office noises can, in fact, be a health risk. Cornell University environmental psychologist, Gary Evans, conducted a study that revealed office noise in open-style offices can lead to “higher levels of stress and lower task motivation.” There may be a reason why the hustle and bustle of a post office causes some employees to “go postal.”
Evans and his colleagues believe that while some low-level noise can lead to workers becoming more focused on their tasks, the long term effects of noise stress affect decision making, as well as concentration, keeping workers from realizing that they need to take a break or change their posture, which as we already know can lead to detrimental health. Long-term exposure to noise stress may mean your coworker could be packing more than just his lunch one day.
Quiet, enclosed rooms can alleviate the effects of low-level office noise. In lieu of private offices, noise reducing headphones can help. If you are unable to wear headphones in the office, a brief walk to the park or another quiet area throughout the day can help to reduce your stress level.
The bottom line? Be considerate to your colleagues, and refrain from blasting that epic Death Metal track straight after lunch; or ever, now that we think about it.
Exposure to Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) Electric and Magnetic Fields (say that five times fast)
Computer and cell phone emissions are so commonplace these days that they may seem harmless. But the radiation emitted from them has the potential to be hazardous. It is believed by some that high level EMF exposure can cause leukemia, cancers, reproductive and development problems, as well as depression (read about mental health here). There is not much you can do to avoid EMF in the modern workplace, and even working at home will still result in exposure. So unless you’re ready to join the tin-foil hat brigade, with their shiny and stylish helmets, ELF and EMF exposure is here for a good long while to come.
It is possible to minimize your contact with EMFs by keeping your distance from objects that put off emissions, including keeping your cell phone, tablet and other electronic devices in a far away desk drawer. Try also to place your computer hard drive as far away from your body as possible.
Pro Tip: Take your phone out of your pocket and put it on your desk as the first act of every day. You know, unless you want all that awesome radiation next to your junk. Mutant offspring For The Win?!
Although not a new issue, the problem is becoming worse as lack of physical activities, increased levels of stress, and the growing prevalence of junk food contribute to an increase in obesity in workplaces around the world.
Obesity is a main factor in increased levels of LDL cholesterol in blood, blood clotting and other dangerous medical conditions. It can also have effects on your muscles and posture, resulted in a downward spiral of a healthy mind and body. Obesity is also a main contributor to Erectile Dysfunction in adult males; which should be enough reason for all our guy readers to hit the gym, now.
Watch what you eat at the office and do not pig out with a big meal at lunch. Besides being unhealthy for you, a large lunch will most certainly not help as you try to keep your eyes open during the afternoon doldrums. Health experts say that the best way to keep your waistline from expanding is small meals more often. Also, instead of munching on chips and candy bars throughout the day, keep it healthy.
While experts still debate on whether an office jobs can have a definitive link to colon cancer, it is certain that sitting for hours on end is a leading factor in the increase in colon cancer across the globe. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, experts have found that people who work in the office for more than 10 years, and spend most of the time in sedentary work at a desk, have up to a 44 per cent increase in a risk of colon cancer.
As with many of the other items on this list, getting up and moving around during the day, as well as a healthy diet can help to reduce this risk. Broccoli has been identified as a leading preventative agent in the fight against colon cancer, so it could be a good idea to load up on a lunch full of that green leafy vegetable.
However, broccoli also causes flatulence; if colon cancer doesn’t get you, your stinky farts may just turn the tables and give your coworkers the incentive they need to get there first.
Even if you heart is not in your work, it is certainly being exposed to it. According to British scientists, those who work for 10-11 hours in the office have up to 67 per cent higher risks to develop heart disease.
As well as the other contributing factors already listed, it is due in part to working long hours and having less time for exercise, healthy eating and physician visits. Working in an office can also expose workers to more stress, less sleep and engage in other behaviors which contribute to cardiovascular risk, particularly that much needed smoking break.
Getting up from your desk every 30 minutes can decrease the risk of having a heart attack. Take time during your lunch break to go for a stroll at a brisk pace and drink more water. However, if you’re getting up for a cigarette, you’re not fooling anyone. Get back to work.
Office Obstacle Course
You do, after all, work in a space that is filled with objects that can cause you to slip, trip or even electrocute yourself. As one expert puts it “the modern office is a minefield of objects that can lead to bodily harm”. Add simple-minded coworkers who spill liquid, string cables improperly or put obstacles in public places to the mix and the results can be disastrous. In fact, it’s well known that the Kitchen is the most dangerous place in an individual’s home, so adding all the office obstacles to an office kitchen gives us the perfect threat for the modern employee.
Keep your eyes open and don’t be stupid! While this may seem relatively simple, one can easily get distracted when negotiating the office or think that they can get that piece of toast stuck in the toaster out by using the metal knife in the drawer.
Does your insurance cover the above health problems?
Thinking about the health problems you could potentially develop at your 9 to 5 is no doubt daunting. The only way to have maximum peace of mind is to make sure your cost of treatment is covered should you get sick, or develop one of the above health problems.
If you have employer-provided health insurance, or an individual health insurance plan (learn about group vs individual plans here), it is important not to automatically assume that every single illness and treatment is covered. Every insurer and health insurance plan is different, therefore it pays to read your T&Cs thoroughly so that you are aware of all exclusions.
Check out our 5 tips for designing the perfect employee benefits plan for inspiration.
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