Why Headaches Are the Leading Cause of Employee Absenteeism . . . and Why Many Headaches Can Be Prevented by Vision Exams

“Headaches cause substantial individual impact on work productivity and employer and societal burden from direct medical costs, lost work time, and underemployment, and, in more severe persistent headache, unemployment. The lost work time costs greatly exceed medical care costs. Chronic daily headache (15 or more headache days per month) represents a widely accepted stage of pain progression that occurs in 2-4% of the population.”

“Headache and Migraine: A Leading Source of Absenteeism,” by K. Baigi and W.F. Stewart, Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 2015

When employees suffer from headaches on the job, costly problems arise. Their productivity suffers and they are more prone to make mistakes. Plus, employees who suffer from chronic headaches call in sick more often. And as we noted previously, other health problems can arise from poor or uncorrected vision, including depression, a greater likelihood of falls, and even shortened life expectancy.

Yet when a company takes steps to help employees see better and experience less eye strain, they suffer fewer headaches – and problems of absenteeism and poor productivity are reduced.

What Causes Poor Vision and Headaches on the Job

  • Poor workplace lighting. Headaches are more likely to happen when ambient light in a work area is not sufficient, or when it is provided by old fluorescent fixtures that do not emit a “natural” spectrum of colors. Eyestrain and headaches also occur when individual workstations or desks are not equipped with lights that direct sufficient illumination at documents that are being processed, products that are being assembled or repaired, etc.
  • Incorrect placement of desks and work stations. When desks are placed in front of bright windows, employees must squint to shut out background glare so they can see what they are working on. The results? Again, eyestrain and headaches.
  • Dry conditions. When a work area is not humid enough, dry eyes and eye irritation result. It is a problem that can be rectified through the use of inexpensive humidifiers.
  • Excessive computer use and failure to take work breaks. Studies from the National Institutes of Health have found that eyestrain is significantly reduced when computer-users take only four or five five-minute work breaks during the day.
  • Incorrect adjustment and placement of computer displays. When employees need to squint because bright sources of light are located behind the screens they are using, eyestrain results. Plus, strain can be caused by incorrect brightness settings on computer displays, or by settings that display text in sizes that are too small. Note that simple adjustments can usually rectify these issues.
  • Poor workstation ergonomics. In many offices, the distance is too great between desk chairs and computer displays, causing employees to squint or sit in uncomfortable positions to focus on their computer screens. Headaches, poor posture and back discomfort can result.
  • Desktop clutter. When employees’ work surfaces become cluttered, those workers are apt to work on documents that are not well lit or well positioned for visual processing. The result is again eyestrain.

Uncorrected Vision Is a Major Cause of Headaches

According to “Could Your Headaches Be Due to Vision Problems?”, an article on YourSightMatters.com, the following problems that are often caught during routine eye exams are common causes of headache:

  • Astigmatism
  • Hyperopia, or long-sightedness
  • Presbyopia, a condition in which the lens in the eye has hardened due to age
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts

The article concludes, “If you’re experiencing frequent headaches, and it’s been more than a year or two between eye exams, it’s a good idea to see your eye care provider.”

How can you add regular, high-quality vision care to your company’s employee wellness program? Find out how easy it is to run a vision screening in your office by downloading the free white paper, The Benefits of Corporate On-site Vision Exams.

Wellness Vision Exams


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Do Your Employees Have the Best Eyesight to Perform their Jobs?