7 Work Habits That Are Making You Sick

They might seem trivial, but these habits could lead to sick days.


In Pictures: 7 Work Habits That Are Making You Sick

By + More

You're a great employee. You whiz through tough work projects and shine during performance reviews. Too bad your shoulders are slouchy (from sitting at your desk too long), your skin is splotchy (lunch, smunch—the break room's greasy potato chips will kill hunger), and your sleep is shoddy (you didn't finish that last work project until 4 a.m.). To help you recognize professional choices that compromise your overall health, here's a list of the most unhealthy work habits:

1. Your footwear. You have a huge office presentation or an important board meeting, so you match your power suit with the perfect power heels. But by the workday's end, you could be trading new-found confidence for some newly formed corns. If you're going to sport your spikes to the office, Dr. A. Holly Johnson, chief of foot and ankle orthopedic surgery at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital, suggests bringing in a fall-back pair of shoes. "The key to everything in health is moderation," she says. "Wearing a high heel all day at work, whether it's two inches or four inches, is probably not a good idea. If you're going to be sitting in your office all day, then you should have some flats at your desk. It's fine to wear those heels for a couple of hours, though." 

[In Pictures: 6 Summer Office Attire No-Nos.]

Another way to combat possible foot strain and pinched toes: Make sure to wear shoes that actually fit. Johnson says many people underestimate the size of their feet. "Wearing the wrong shoe size is going to exacerbate any problem you have," she says. "When you're going to buy new shoes, have the salesperson measure your foot or measure your own foot at home. Over time, a foot gets progressively wider and longer."

2. Your commute. It's a good thing you packed that spare pair of comfortable shoes for the work commute, because chances are, you're going to be travelling for awhile. The average commute is just north of 25 minutes, according to a 2009 report from the American Community Survey. Experts say excessive traffic could lead to stress and reduced sleep, while lengthy car, train, and bus rides result in longer sedentary time and therefore, a higher body mass index, waist circumference, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Over time, a hassled commuter could grapple with heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and even kidney failure.

If you live close enough to your office, you might want to swap your bus pass for some sneakers and walk to and from work. Commuters who can't avoid their long and sedentary travel times should also aim to squeeze more physical activity into their daily routine. 

3. Your all-nighters. Sometimes it takes longer than an eight-hour workday to complete an assignment, which could cause us to revert to an all-nighter à la school days. And while occasionally missing sleep is more of a nuisance than a serious health concern, it can become an issue if it happens consistently. "We talk about acute sleep deprivation and chronic sleep deprivation," says Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, the chief medical officer for Sleep HealthCenters in Boston and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "There are some clear effects that go along with not getting enough sleep, and the longer you go, the sleepier you get. Acute sleep deprivation could immediately affect work performance." 

"But as you miss more sleep, your cognitive functioning drops," Epstein continues. "You won't be able to think clearly and you won't be able to learn as much. The effect of 24 hours of sleep deprivation on performance is the equivalent of having a blood-alcohol level of 0.10." According to him, one of the dangers of chronic sleep deprivation is that people lose the ability to judge their level of sleep impairment. Receiving one or two hours here or there might make a sleep-deprived worker feel rested temporarily, but ultimately, he or she could still make poor decisions, like getting behind the wheel of a car.

According to Epstein, the only remedy for missing sleep is to sleep, so consider using your lunch break to get some shut-eye. "The best times to be asleep are in the middle of the night, and then 12 hours after that, so in the middle of the afternoon," Epstein says. "If you didn't get enough rest at night, it's easiest to try again at your next peak of sleepiness."