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updated 10/25/2007 4:11:56 PM ET 2007-10-25T20:11:56

If you're a member of corporate America, chances are you've got access to a state-of-the-art gym, a gourmet cafeteria and an array of wellness services, including health risk assessments, telephone and Web-based consultations, and weight-loss programs.

Some companies are taking workplace wellness a step further. Sandia National Laboratories maintains a fleet of bicycles on its 400-acre campus, American Apparel provides on-site massage therapists for its assembly line workers and Cisco's cafeteria features food labeled with nutrition information.

But despite a noticeable shift toward promoting healthy workplaces, your job can still make you sick. From uncomfortable workspaces to poor air quality to depression-inducing stress, there are plenty of opportunities to come home feeling worse than when you left in the morning.

It is estimated that, for every dollar invested in workplace wellness policies, a company receives a $2 to $4 return on its investment. But in order to remain well, experts urge employees to be pro-active about their health.

“Workers need to listen to their bodies,” says Karen Jacobs, an occupational therapist and clinical professor of Occupational Therapy at Boston University. She advises the desk-bound complaining of muscle stiffness or discomfort. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, an estimated 1.8 million workers suffer from such musculoskeletal disorders, including elbow tendinitis, wrist pain and lower back problems.

“We tell people to try to find their comfort zone and follow some guidelines,” she says. Jacobs recommends that workers shift positions frequently, stretch regularly and equip their desks with the basics, including an adjustable chair, keyboard tray, foot rest and proper lighting.

While the cause of muscle pain and joint stiffness may seem obvious, it can be harder to track the source of an irritated upper respiratory tract. Dr. Fred Berman, director of the Toxicology Information Center at the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology, often fields inquiries about eye, nose and throat irritation.

Berman says that everything from mold spores to office furniture that off-gases formaldehyde to changes in humidity can affect a worker’s upper respiratory system.

If you suffer from the sniffles, “the best thing to do is to get an industrial hygienist,” says Berman. Multiple employee complaints may indicate “sick building syndrome,” and an industrial hygienist will be able to test the air for toxins and irritants and advise a company on how to improve the air quality.

Despite many valid concerns, Berman says he also hears from workers who experience “phantom air quality issues” where testing has shown no traceable toxins.

“It’s amazing the kinds of things that can create an air quality issue where there isn’t one,” says Berman. Stress, conflict and low morale can all contribute to perceived air quality issues.

In fact, work-related stress has a powerful impact on employees. A study in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health demonstrated a significant relationship between work stress and depression.

Dr. Emma Robertson Blackmore, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a co-author of the study, says that those with possible symptoms of depression — anxiety, headaches, a curbed appetite, insomnia and general dissatisfaction — sometimes fail to attribute them to depression and work stress. Increased stress and depression have been linked to a number of chronic and non-chronic health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart attacks.

She recommends that stressed and depressed employees take advantage of telephone or Web-based counseling as well as diagnostic screening tools.

According to findings compiled by researchers at the Healthy Lifestyle Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, one-fourth of employees view their jobs as the No. 1 stressor in their lives. Dr. Bruce Rabin, the program’s director, says that it’s critical to change responses to stress, noting that consistent anxiety can change the brain’s chemistry and lead to depression.

“When people are depressed,” Rabin says, “the oy veys of life become more real.”

Rabin teaches students of his program to calm themselves with an activity of their choice like praying, taking a walk or thinking of a funny moment. He also recommends that co-workers monitor each other’s health and create social support.

“We need to create a culture," he says, "where we are concerned about healthy lifestyles."

© 2012 Forbes.com

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