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The hidden productivity killer: how digestive issues can affect your team performance

Helping treat IBS can revolutionize your employees' quality of life and their productivity.


There’s no argument that the business world has drastically shifted over the past year due to COVID-19. From Zoom meetings to keeping their children focused on online schooling, employees are experiencing a plethora of both new and existing stressors in their daily routines. These rising stress levels are making employees more vulnerable than ever to the impacts of digestive conditions.

Stress and the gut

When you think of digestive issues, mental health may not be the first thing that comes to mind. What does your mind have to do with your gut anyway? Well, have you ever experienced the feeling of butterflies in your stomach before giving a big presentation or making a decision based on a ‘gut feeling’? It turns out these commonly used colloquial phrases have a more scientific significance than they appear. 

Your stomach can also be referred to as your ‘second brain’ because it houses a plethora of neurotransmitters, your microbiome, and produces 90% of your body’s serotonin. This second brain of the gut has a bi-directional communication system with our central nervous system of the brain. Understanding this communication system can provide a possible explanation as to why an onset of painful digestive episodes are often elicited by stress and anxiety.

Let’s take for example a digestive condition, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. While the exact cause of IBS is still not known, what researchers do know is that stress can be a trigger to an increased onset of symptoms. Therefore, symptoms can result from a disruption in the way the gut, the brain, and the nervous system communicate. 

IBS in the workplace

83 percent of US workers have reported suffering from work-related stress. These daily work stressors pose a significant impact on those with IBS. More than 50 percent of IBS patients experience condition-related depression and anxiety, as well as a lowered resilience to stress. 

IBS can feel debilitating and pose a considerable barrier to productivity in the workplace. IBS also takes the rank as the second leading cause of work absenteeism, right behind the common cold. According to a study, it was reported that on average IBS leads to approximately 24 workdays missed a year and has impacted employee productivity on an average of 108 days annually. 

You may wonder, how does digestive health impact the ability to stay present and productive? Think of a time where you had a papercut on your hand and every task you went about during your day kept hitting that same exact spot. No matter what you did during your day, the only thing you could think of was how badly that papercut stings. In this same sense, even when employees do show up to work and have an onset of IBS symptoms, it becomes hard to focus on the task at hand when they are suffering from such discomfort. 

This enigmatic and unpredictable condition can leave employees continually wondering when their symptoms will strike next. Daily stressors coupled with a chronic sense of worry perpetuate a ‘vicious cycle’ creating an inescapable pattern of flareups. So, while Susan on your team appears to be well and performing on the surface level, she can very well be taking precautionary measures to avoid aggravating her IBS. She may avoid eating during the workday to circumvent having to spend the rest of her day in the bathroom or miss important meetings. While these preventative measures can help Susan stay physically present, this can inevitably perpetuate presenteeism due to the impact that low blood sugar has on the ability to think straight.

The solution for a healthy gut

While taking medications can provide temporary symptom relief, it is often fleeting and symptoms continue to show up time after time. Because of this brain-gut communication system, studies have shown that therapies addressing the psychological and behavioral aspects of IBS can help target the root cause of symptoms allowing them to be more manageable over the long-term. These therapies can include: 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps to identify behavior patterns and restructure these thoughts and feelings through exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring, worry management, and behavioral experiments.

Gut-directed hypnotherapy teaches users how to gain control of symptoms that are not under conscious control after they reached a mental state between highly-focused attention and deepened relaxation.

Attention Training and Mindfulness are both different practices that enable users to train their mind’s attention away from distractions of painful symptoms. 

Yoga can aid in easing symptoms by lowering the stress response from the autonomic nervous system.  

These treatments help not only to manage stress and anxiety but to ultimately help people reframe their coping strategies and reduce the power their condition has over their daily routines.

Bottom Line 

Aside from causing direct medical costs, IBS affects productivity and increases absences within your team. Helping treat IBS can revolutionize your employees' quality of life and their productivity.

Interested in offering your employees an accessible and scalable solution to help their gut health and improve their productivity? Join the Bold Health virtual care programme to provide your team with the most convenient, efficient and cost-effective care for digestive health.




Team Bold Health