Last Updated on Mar 12, 2020 by James W

When you think about the factors that could affect your career, you probably think of your experience, education, level of passion and commitment, and work ethic. Indeed, while those are all important influences on your career success, there is actually one major factor that many people do not consider, or at least, not in terms of their career. That factor? Your personal health.


Now, you might be thinking, “I work in accounting. What difference does it make if I have diabetes or high blood pressure? Being able to run a five-minute mile isn’t going to help me crunch numbers.??? Unfortunately, if you have that attitude (and if you do, you aren’t alone) you might be unintentionally holding yourself back from bigger and better things at work.

You’re At Work —But Are You Really Working?

One of the most important concerns for most employers is productivity. In short, businesses want workers who will show up to work on time, do the jobs they were hired to do, and focus on their work for their entire shift. Many employers practically turn themselves inside out trying to find ways to improve productivity. They might develop new workflow systems, install new technology, and provide incentives — anythingthat they think will increase productivity, they are willing to try.

Yet many employers overlook one powerful factor in productivity, and that’s the connection between employee health and their ability to work to capacity each day. Think about how you areon your worst days. The last thing you want to do is sit through yet another meeting, or enter numbers into a spreadsheet. So you do just enough to look busy, counting the minutes until you can go home and go to bed. Now imagine that you feel that way every day, thanks to a chronic condition like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, or other health problems.

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It might sound shocking, but it’s true. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that the most common chronic public health issues, including obesity, cost employers more than $225 billion annually in lost productivity. This is in large part to a phenomenon called presenteeism, in which employees come to work, but they do not put in their best effort due to their condition. This could be physical, such as fatigue leading to reduced speed or accuracy, or simply the fact that their condition is a distraction and requires you to spend time at doctor’s appointments or administer treatment during working hours.

Of course, this doesn’t even take into account absenteeism. When you can’t make it in to work because you are ill or you need to receive medical care, it not only increasescosts for your employer, but also affects your reputation in the office. Considering that productivity, commitment to your job, and your reliability all play a role in decisions about promotions, salaries, and even project assignments, when you are in poor health, it could hold you back from your career goals.

Employment Decisions Based on Health?

Even if you do not have a chronic condition, being overweight or obese could affect your career in what might be an unexpected way. According to a study in the International Journal of Obesity, job candidates who were overweight — especially women — were less likely to be hired than those who maintained a healthy weight. In fact, some employers have even gone so far as to make a healthy Body Mass Index a requirement for employment, citing that not only do healthier employees cost less, but also project a better image for the company.

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The issue of weight discrimination is one that is largely ignored and most jurisdictions allow such policies provided the employer can provide a legitimate reason for the rule. Currently, Michigan is the only state with a law that prohibits discrimination based on weight or appearance. However, even when there isn’t a specific policy in place regarding candidate health, studies show that those people who appear to be in good health often have an advantage in the job search. In fact, candidates who demonstrate a healthy lifestyle via their hobbies or other indicators tend to have more success landing jobs and move up the ladder faster and earn more.

So what does this mean for you? If you are overweight or have a chronic health condition, it could be holding you back at work without you even realizing it. Consider your performance and whether it’s been influenced by your weight or health, and if so, make changes to improve your condition. Diet and exercise, medication, and medical interventions can all make a significant difference in not only getting you in better shape, but also improving your career.


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