Anxiety in the workplace linked to high productivity loss, sickness absence


By Stephen M. Pfeiffer, Ph.D.

According to a recent report from the Stanford School of Medicine, anxiety in the workplace ranks together with depression as one of the most costly and detrimental health risks among employees. As noted in our last column, employee depression takes an incredible toll on businesses, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting a cost of $17-44 billion per year due to sick days on account of unmanageable symptoms. However, a new study conducted in Norway shows that both depression and anxiety were both predictors of employee sick leave. Not only that, the study found that “anxiety alone is a stronger risk factor for prolonged and frequent sick leave than depression alone.”

This particular study, published in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, concludes that anxiety “appears to be a more important contributor to long-term sickness absence (SA) than previously described in the literature” – an argument that underlines the importance of properly identifying and treating anxiety in the workplace through comprehensive workers health care. However, as is often the case with depression, this is much easier said than done. When it comes to evaluating workplace anxiety, it can be difficult to determine whether or not an individual’s mental injury is in fact a result of the employment itself, or whether it is caused by outside factors. If a worker complains of or shows acute signs of stress on the job, it is important to seek out the opinion of a trained psychologist to determine if work stress is indeed the cause of that worker’s anxiety.

Identifying root causes to reduce absence and improve treatment

A recent article in Forbes magazine exploring the impact of anxiety on workplace performance suggests that, while a certain degree of anxiety can provide workers with beneficial motivation for success, many work environments foster significantly higher levels of stress. However, each individual employee will handle and manifest workplace stressors in different ways, making it difficult to know when he or she is experiencing anxiety about a personal problem or a work problem, and to what extent that anxiety is affecting productivity, health and emotional well-being.

As a Qualified Medical Evaluator, I am frequently asked to help determine the root cause of worker anxiety, and to determine whether or not an individual’s mental injury is due to his employment. An expert professional analysis is crucial in order to effect the right treatment and eventual recovery. To learn more, or request the services of a Qualified Medical Evaluator, contact Dr. Stephen Pfeiffer via email at or visit my website at