Mental health problems and musculoskeletal disorders are the medical ailments most damaging to productivity, followed by respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders, according to a survey recently released by the Institute for Health and Productivity Management.

Musculoskeletal conditions, including arthritis, low back pain and repetitive motion strain, were the leading cause of absenteeism. Mental health conditions - largely depression - and pregnancy were the second and third leading causes of absences from work.

Musculoskeletal problems were second to mental health conditions in causing productivity loss due to "presenteeism" - followed by respiratory and gastrointestinal problems.

Presenteeism accounts for health and disease issues that diminish performance while at work.

Although musculoskeletal and mental health conditions have the largest reported negative impact on productivity, disease management programs for these conditions were not common among the employers surveyed.

"If more employers established disease management programs to deal with these health issues, they would be able to reduce their overall health-related costs, while also increasing productivity," said Sean Sullivan, president & CEO of IHPM.

The study, "A View of Health and Productivity from Corporate America," surveyed 35 companies employing about 1.2 million workers. Industries covered included manufacturing, transportation, public service, communications, oil and gas, healthcare, finance and distribution.