15 Ways Your Office is Giving You a Headache

Headaches are sometimes a common occurrence in the workplace. While they can be signs of an underlying condition, there are numerous aspects to an office space or work in general that can attribute to headaches. Learning the cause of headaches is a step in the right direction to decrease their frequency or stopping them altogether.

The number of headache-causing factors in the world are many. However, in the workplace, those factors can be narrowed down a bit. The following 15 headache triggers are just some of the possibilities.

1. Stress

2. Poor Posture

3. Hunger

4. Lack of Sleep

5. Dehydration

6. Snacks

7. Sinus Infection

8. Noise

9. Poor Lighting

10. Caffeine

11. Obesity

12. Depression

13. Lack of Movement

14. Medication

15. Pressure on Head

The reason and explanation for these headache causing factors may seem glaringly obvious or completely out there. Nonetheless, if headaches at work are a common issue, compare your workplace to the below aspects.


Perhaps the most obvious of all headache causes, stress is known to be the root cause for headaches in many employees. Since this kind of headache is the most common, it is important to know how to prevent it and treat it if it does occur.

Preventing stress, or tension, headaches start with identifying the stressor. By approaching stress headaches as a problem to be prevented, employees can save themselves a lot of pain.  

If completely eliminating the stressor is not possible, there are some ways to help prevent and treat the headache. Activities like exercise, meditation and breathing techniques, and a power nap can prevent and treat headaches. Other treatment options involve prescription or over the counter medications, while another prevention measure is learning to handle stress more effectively.  (Check out our article – Reduce Stress and Anxiety at Work – Not Your Average Stress and Anxiety Relief Products)

A lot of work stress is attributed to deadlines and the workload. In order to get ahead of stress headaches, it can be helpful to carefully plan out each work day and minimize distractions. Be sure to take the appropriate amount of breaks, but don’t spend too much time away from actual work. Doing so will decrease stress and increase productivity.

Poor Posture

While many employees know that their poor posture from hunching over a desk all day can develop back and neck pain, it also adds to headaches. Unbeknownst to most people, poor posture often means a clenched jaw. The clenching of the jaw leads to tightening facial muscles, which in turn causes headaches.

The easiest way to prevent this kind of headache in the workplace is to focus on improving posture. Just because a worker is required to sit at a desk most of the day does not mean that he or she should be hunched over. Proper posture while seated is having both feet placed flat on the floor and the knees aligned with the hips. It is important to sit back in the chair with your shoulders relaxed. To ensure the neck is at the proper angle, the ears should be in line with the shoulders and the computer screen needs to be at eye level. Lastly, your elbows should rest at a 90 degree angle.

Adhering to the proper desk posture guidelines can help a variety of health complications, most commonly neck and back pain or headaches. Since headaches can be a productivity stopper, it is important to put good posture to practice. If you or other employees are struggling with improving posture there are a number of products and helpful methods worth looking into. From ergonomic chairs with lumbar support to vest-like contraptions designed to straighten the shoulders, the resources to help are available.  (Check out our article – 25 Desks Your Office Needs for Health & Wellness)


Most people have experienced a headache from hunger. At work, a hunger headache can be a frequent occurrence. If you’re rushing out the door in the morning and forgot your lunch or just simply don’t have the time to take a break to eat, you will likely end up with an ache across your forehead or sides of your head.

Obviously, the prevention of a hunger headache is to eat regularly. Keep snack foods at your desk for those moments that you are unable to get up and get something from the break room. Be sure to eat breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, and an afternoon snack. A healthy diet will also help with the prevention of a huger headache.

A hunger headache is most usually caused by low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is what occurs when a person’s blood sugar drops below 70. While a headache is a common side effect, low blood sugar can also be accompanied by irritability, confusion, and fainting. Symptoms can worsen if sugar is not improved quickly.

Lack of Sleep

Although taking a nap is not usually a common occurrence in the workplace, many professionals say it should be. Since work often comes with stress that goes home with the employee, it is often a cause for a lack of sleep. With stress keeping employees up at night and the inability to nap during the workday, employees can find themselves getting a headache.

In order to prevent this type of headache, it is ideal to try and leave work stress at work so that sleep is possible at home. If that is too difficult to do, speak to your boss about the possibility of a 20-minute nap during the day. With some quick research, it is easy to tell that a 20-minute nap for a tired employee with a headache has more benefits than the cost of an additional break.

A well-rested employee is a more productive employee, especially when that employee is not slowed down with a headache. Insomnia is known to cause specific proteins that cause migraines. By improving sleep habits, employees are sure to improve performance at work. Whether you are stressed from work or simply working too much, ensuring that sleep is made a priority will make a positive impact on the presence of headaches.  (Check out our review of Why We SleepOpens in a new tab.)


Dehydration occurs in the workplace more than employees think. When many envision dehydration, they see a parched, desperate person in the desert. In truth, dehydration happens often at work, as employees can simply forget to drink water when they get busy. Challenging yourself to drink enough water throughout the day can decrease the frequency of headaches.

Ensuring that you drink plenty of water during the workday might start with tracking your intake. You might mark off a chart for every 8 ounces that you consume or use an app to do the same. It is also a good idea to bring a 2 liter of water and try to drink it throughout the day. Since a 2 liter is about the recommended amount of intake, trying to finish off the bottle while at work will ensure that enough gets consumed.

Dehydration comes with a variety of symptoms. If you get headaches at work but are unsure if dehydration is the cause, you might look into the presence of these other symptoms to confirm. The beginning stages of dehydration often include headaches, thirst, darker colored urine, infrequent urination, a dry mouth and skin, and muscle cramps. If any of these accompany the headache, it might be a good idea to attempt to drink more water while in the workplace.  (Check out our article – The Complete Guide to Providing the Best Water for Your EmployeesOpens in a new tab.)


While snacks are great for fighting off hunger headaches, there are some snacks that are known to cause headaches in many people. If you keep a stash in your office or get snacks from the vending machine, it is possible that these foods are the cause of your headache. Identifying common headache causing foods will help to lessen the chances of consuming them.

Some foods that might be the cause of headaches include nuts and nut butter, age cheeses, hot dogs or lunch meats, cold foods, tomato-based products, potato chips, bread, beans, avocados, and dried fruits. If you regularly consume one of these foods and experience headaches just as regularly, it may be smart to stop eating that particular food to check for improvement.

Improving snack-inducing headaches in the workplace starts with trading out your snacks. Instead of going to the vending machine for a bag of chips, try snacking on pepper jack cheese or blueberries. By keeping snacks in your desk that you know do not cause headaches, getting such pains at work will be less likely.

Sinus Infection

It may seem odd that an office can give you a sinus infection that causes a headache, but it is common for coworkers to still go to the office when they are sick. When another employee shows up for work with a sinus infection and the bacteria or virus gets on the office door handles, it is probable that you will then get it on your own hands. From there, it is only a matter of time before you have the same infection and a headache with it.

Preventing a sinus infection can be incredibly difficult when you work in close parameters with others. However, there are some ways that it can be prevented. First and foremost, frequent hand washing is the best way to prevent catching a co-workers illness. It is also a good idea to avoid touching your face if at all possible. Using disinfectant will also help to prevent the spread of illness. Even with these preventative measures, there are some things that cannot be helped.

It is because of the hard work and difficulty in preventing the spread of illness in the workplace that those that are sick should stay home. Sinus infections have the ability to cause headaches because of the build-up of pressure. Since co-workers do not usually want nor need a sinus headache, it is best to work from home if at all possible.


The noise level in an office is a common headache causing factor. This is especially true in an open workspace. With the noise coming from every corner of an open office, it can get to be too much. Even in an office that is more closed off, noise from computers and other work machines can trigger headaches.

Preventing a noise-induced headache can be as simple as wearing noise-canceling headphones or a pair of earplugs. In some offices, it is necessary to hear and these options would not be viable. If that is the case, it may be necessary to speak with a doctor regarding a long term medication to prevent headaches from occurring. If medication is not a route that you are wanting to take, you might be surprised at the noise reduction that comes from a wall partition or similar barrier.

Being considerate of other employees is another way to help reduce noise levels. At times employees have to speak louder because his or her neighbor is being loud. By respecting everyone in the space, the noise level can be brought down substantially if someone were to be the start of a chain reaction.

Poor Lighting

Most people are aware that poor lighting can cause eye strain. While eye strain is a cause for a headache, the lighting itself is also known to cause one as well. Fluorescent lighting, especially, causes headaches and migraines. This is typically because of the minute flickering that comes with a fluorescent bulb.

Some options for preventing a fluorescent lighting headache is to simply not use that light. Turn it off and put a bright lamp at your desk. If this is not possible for your work layout, it may be better to remove just the bulb over your desk. This allows other employees to keep the lighting over their own heads, but minimize the fluorescent exposure over your own. Again, a personal lamp would be needed to prevent eye strain from reading in a poorly lit area.  (Check out our article – Light in the WorkplaceOpens in a new tab.)

As a whole, companies might help employees with this area by allowing as much natural light in the office as possible. Open the blinds, put in a few skylights, or allow desks to be placed near the available windows. These ideas are just a few options for adding some natural sunlight to the space.


While caffeine has the ability to keep employees alert and productive, it can also cause headaches from both too much and too little consumption. When caffeine becomes an item of everyday consumption, it is likely that going without it for even a short period of time will cause a withdrawal headache. Too much caffeine also can cause a rebound headache, which simply means that too much medication has been taken and the symptoms come back worse than previously.

In order to prevent caffeine headaches, it is a good idea to drink a bit less every few days. For example, if you regularly drink three cups a day, drink just two cups on the third day. Keeping up with this cycle will help to ward off the need for even more caffeine and can help in the decrease of consumption. Preventing a rebound caffeine headache starts with reducing too much intake in the first place.

While it can be difficult to get through your day without a few cups of coffee, it is a good idea to be wary of caffeine dependency. Too much can easily start an addiction of sorts, which means withdrawal is imminent when your regular amount is no longer enough. Many employees keep a coffee machine close to his or her desk: it may be ideal to only use the machine in the break room.


Upon reading this cause of a headache, you might wonder how an office is at fault for obesity. While an employees’ health should be his or her responsibility, there are a number of employers that do not care about the dangers of employee health on the business. A workplace can be partially at fault for obese employees if the workers are required to stay seated at a desk for the majority of the day or fail to offer healthy vending machine options.

Preventing a headache that results from obesity starts with preventing obesity itself. In the workplace, obesity can be battled by allowing sit to stand desks, healthy options in the break room, and providing a wellness initiative. Doing these things as a business says a lot about the care it has for its employees. It also means that businesses will likely have employees stick around longer – both in life and just for the job.

When obesity is taken into the hands of the employer, employees feel more important and are more willing to work for the company. When obesity headaches are no longer a concern, productivity will soar even more so. Without the necessary help from employers, it can be hard to fight corporate obesity and the health concerns that come with it.


Sadly, depression can easily be the result of work. For many people, a side effect of depression is a headache. In order to learn how to prevent these headaches, it is necessary to learn how to combat depression in the workplace. While there are countless ways to do so, some of the most effective include natural light, exercise, sleep, and setting goals. Trying to incorporate these factors into the workday will help with depression, and therefore, headaches.

In preventing depression at work it can be a good idea to encourage exercise. This might mean getting a few co-workers to take the stairs every day or spend a portion of your lunch break walking around the block. Whatever it is, ensure that it is done every day – a routine helps depression as well. Setting goals is another aspect that will encourage employees away from depression. Having something to reach for is a good way to keep your sights on something positive.  (Check out our article – Workplace Depression Effect on Productivity (Symptoms, Effects and How to Help)Opens in a new tab.

Although natural remedies are often helpful, a depression headache might require a prescribed medication. If that is the case, it is a good idea to discuss specific medication options with a doctor. Even if the depression is caused by your work or work environment, headaches that stem from it should be addressed by a professional if natural remedies are ineffective.

Lack of Movement

Being stuck at a desk all day can cause headaches because of the lack of exercise that comes with a typical desk job. If you and other employees are required to sit for 8 hours or more out of the day, it is likely that you are not getting the necessary exercise in each day. It can be tough to get ready in the morning (especially if you have a family!), go to work, and still have the energy to work out, eat, run errands, and do household chores. Cutting out at least one of these things is normal.

Since working from a chair all day negates any kind of movement, employees may suffer from headaches. In order to prevent these kinds of headaches, it can be a good idea to move around as much as possible. This might mean running up a few flights of stairs during a break or walking to the restaurant for lunch. Seeking out ways to incorporate more movement is ideal for preventing headaches.

An inactive person is more likely to have long term, chronic headaches. Studies show that adding more activity to daily life lessens the risk of a daily headache. If exercise in the workplace is not possible, making an effort to exercise before or after work may be the best option.


Many offices have a resident drug cabinet. You might feel a headache coming on, so you immediately seek out that co-worker that keeps ibuprofen in her purse. Having that reliance on pain killers, even an over-the-counter drug like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can create headaches long term. Other, prescribed drugs can have a headache side effect, as well.

If stress is a large part of your job, it is possible that you have been prescribed a medication for it. That medication can cause headaches. So, while this medication is inadvertently caused by your office, it is still something to be aware of. It is a good idea to speak with your doctor if a prescribed medication is causing headaches.

Medication can be a very real problem and it is important to be honest with your doctor in regards to the side effects you are experiencing. It is possible to be placed on an alternative medication that your body might respond to better. If your office is a reason to medicate, it may be necessary to also speak with your boss to see if any changes can be made to the environment.


If your job requires a lot of time to be spent on the phone, it is probable that you wear a headset. While the headset might make your working life easier, the pressure it puts on your head can also be the cause of a headache. It may be necessary to reevaluate how important your headset is if frequent headaches are an occurrence for you.

Preventing these kinds of headaches can be done by using a different kind of headset. It may require experimentation with a variety of brands and styles. There are many that are simply earbuds with a microphone attached to the wire. It is also an option to wear a Bluetooth headset that only goes in one ear, this way there is nothing squeezing your head. Otherwise, simply using a handset might be necessary.

Headsets are common and often the best is the over-the-head style because of the ability to hear better. However, an over-the-head style is often the style that causes headaches. In this case, it may be up to the employee’s discretion to make a choice – deal with the headaches, or choose a less popular option for speaking on the phone.

Headaches can be a major productivity killer in an office space. In order to prevent them before they arise, identifying the exact source of your headache is best. Otherwise, it can take some patience trying to figure out what is causing it and how to stop it. If this process is drawn out, you are likely to suffer from headaches or migraines far more than necessary while the solution to the problem is available. Getting the help for workplace headaches is ideal for top-notch productivity.

Related Questions

How should an employer handle sick days for employees? While it can be difficult to get things organized after an employee calls off sick, it is often best for everyone since the sickness can spread. If the sickness were to spread, it is possible that the business would really struggle with being short-handed. Because of this, employers should be reasonable about call-offs and not make employees feel bad when it happens on occasion.

What is a workplace wellness program? A workplace wellness program is an event or helpful assistance in developing “well” employees. Simply put, it is weight loss competitions, smoking cessation programs, and nutrition information brochures that encourage employees to live a healthier life. (Check our article – How Do You Promote Wellness in the Workplace?)Opens in a new tab.

Should employers offer an on-site gym for employees? While an onsite gym would be convenient for employees, it is not 100% necessary. It would be equally helpful for a company to offer a discount at a local gym or hire someone to come periodically for yoga or pilates instruction and classes at work. 

Steve Todd

Steve Todd, founder of Open Sourced Workplace and is a recognized thought leader in workplace strategy and the future of work. With a passion for work from anywhere, Steve has successfully implemented transformative strategies that enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. Through Open Sourced Workplace, he fosters collaboration among HR, facilities management, technology, and real estate professionals, providing valuable insights and resources. As a speaker and contributor to various publications, Steve remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of workplace innovation, helping organizations thrive in today's dynamic work environment.

Recent Posts