Unhealthy diets, smoking and a lack of exercise are cutting down on how much employees can accomplish each day, a new research finds.

The study, conducted by researchers from Brigham Young University, the Health Enhancement Research Organization and the Center for Health Research at Healthways, revealed that unhealthy individual lifestyle choices may result in substantially higher levels of lost productive work time.

Specifically, the study found that employees with an unhealthy diet were 66 percent more likely to experience a loss in productivity than those who regularly ate whole grains, fruits and vegetables. In addition, employees who exercised only occasionally were 50 percent more likely to report having lower levels of productivity than employees who were regular exercisers, while smokers were 28 percent more likely to suffer from a drop in productivity than nonsmokers.

The research also revealed that employees who had difficulty exercising during the work day were 96 percent more likely to have a drop in productivity, while those who did not believe their workplace environment would support them in becoming physically and emotionally healthier were more likely to see their productivity decrease.

"Our research confirms that employee productivity loss is associated with low well-being, poor health behaviors, elevated health risks and the presence of chronic disease," said Dr. James Pope, vice president and chief science officer for Healthways. "This information is significant because the number of employees with excess body fat, poor diets, diabetes and sedentary lifestyles has risen to unprecedented levels in the nation."

The research found that a number of other work-related and personal factors contributed to a decrease in productivity, including not having enough time to perform job duties, insufficient technological support and financial stress.

The study also revealed that a productivity loss was highest among those between the ages of 30 and 39 and lowest among those 60 and older. It was more prevalent among women than men, and also more prevalent among those who were separated, divorced or widowed compared with their married colleagues.

The report found that clerical or office workers in the service and transportation industries experienced the highest levels of productivity loss, with those in the farming, forestry, fishing, construction and mining industries having the lowest levels.

"It's critical that companies look deeper at productivity loss and measure it to understand the impact it is making on their bottom line," said Jerry Noyce, CEO of the Health Enhancement Research Organization. "Business leaders have the ability to reduce the factors that significantly impact productivity loss by implementing comprehensive, best practice workplace wellness programs focused on well-being improvement, which in turn can lead to improvements in employee satisfaction, productivity and profitability for employers."

The study, which was based on surveys of 19,803 employees working at three large, geographically dispersed companies, was recently published in the Population Health Management journal.

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