What’s the impact?
You spend a significant amount of your time at work, which means it greatly impacts your health. The outcomes can be positive or negative. How do you determine which one your experiencing? What can you do to create more positive results?
In 2018, a survey that was completed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, National Public Radio (NPR) and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that about 44% of working adults feel that their current job affects their health in some way with only 28% saying it has a positive impact. When you consider that the average person spends about one-third of their waking hours at work, it’s concerning that this number isn’t higher. The right job can give us a sense of security, nurture our sense of purpose and cultivate a professional desire in workers. However, the wrong job can be toxic to your health. If you have an office job, the eight hours a day, five days a week that you spend in a chair in front of a computer can take a toll on your body. Unfortunately, it’s no longer just eight hours a day. According to a survey done by RAND in 2017, 25% of Americans don’t feel like they have enough time to do their jobs and almost 50% said that they’ve done work during their free time in order to meet deadlines. On top of this, the average commute is about 30 minutes. Some people have commutes that are 90 minutes or more and this is becoming the new norm. In order to get to work on time, many people have to wake up three hours before they’re expected to be at work, which often leads to less sleep. So, a 9-to-5 job is now a 12-hour day. Also, according to the RAND survey, nearly two-thirds of workers feel some degree of mismatch between their desired and actual working conditions. About 75% of the respondents stated that they have intense or repetitive physical exertion at least a quarter of the time while working and over 50% said they are regularly exposed to potentially dangerous working conditions. An estimated 20% have been subjected to hostility, such as verbal abuse and sexual harassment, in the workplace. While only 38% believe that their job offers opportunities for advancement, 80% said that they feel their jobs are important and 84% conveyed that they learn new things.
It’s obvious that when you are working in the right job, you get important social, mental and physical health benefits that result in better-quality of life and improved well-being. In order to promote your physical health and reduce sickness, your job must be safe, give you a sense of self-worth and allow you some decision-making power over what you do and how you do it. Your mental health can be positively impacted as well when your job has benefits, stability and fair pay. When your overall job satisfaction is high, then your levels of depression and anxiety are low. Bonds with co-workers and superiors can fulfill social interaction needs, which reduces feeling socially isolation. If you have a team of hostile employees and a controlling boss, you’ll feel less comfortable and be less motivated. So, it’s safe to assume that a positive work culture is vital to employee satisfaction.
Unfortunately, as the survey numbers indicate, a significant number of people are stressed by their job. When you stressed and under pressure for long periods of time, your body will overproduce the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is related to a number of long-term health issues. Your job stress can cause insomnia, headaches, back pain, strain injuries, high blood pressure and increase your risk for a heart attack. Back pain is a complaint that spans a large number of jobs because it can occur if you’re sitting for hours hunched over in front of your computer or working outside doing physical labor. People also often have Tension Neck Syndrome (TNS), which is the result of holding your neck and shoulders in awkward position for long periods of time and causes neck/shoulder pain, muscle tightness and tenderness. Eyestrain is another significant issue. It’s usually the result of your computer screen being too close or squinting at the computer screen and can cause headaches, difficulty focusing and increased sensitivity to light. Chronic job stress is related to mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, drug abuse, alcoholism and gambling addiction. It can negatively impact your relationships with your family and friends. Some factors that increase job-related stress include taking on too much responsibility, having a poor relationship with your superiors, feeling like you can’t make mistakes and not being able to keep up with current technology. Certain patterns at work can lead to health problems. Rotational shifts are an example of this and is when a person works in a different shift every month or week, which means they are unable to follow a routine or exercise schedule. It also disrupts your body clock and can lead to insomnia, dizziness and sleep deprivation. Another work pattern that isn’t good for your health is not taking enough breaks, which can bring about neck strain, stiff joints, headaches, brain fog and lethargy. To prevent this, your job should require that you take one major break per day and allow for several smaller breaks. If your job does this, the key is to actually take the breaks.
A huge issue that stress at work can cause is stress eating. When stressed, most people have a tendency to mindlessly grazed on food as a way to help deal with it. This hinders our ability to know when we have had enough. For other people, when they are feeling overwhelmed, they don’t feel like they have time to eat or forget to. Either of these can significantly affect your mood and, in turn, your overall productivity. The crucial thing to remember when you are eating is portion control. This will help you to avoid consuming too many calories. It’s also helpful to avoid the office candy dish and bring healthy snacks instead. Since 60% of Americans are overweight, there’s a good chance you’re not the only one in your office trying to eat healthier. This also means that the other person might be interested in getting some exercise by walking on their lunch break. By having a walking buddy, you’ll be able to hold each other accountable. Walking during lunch is a great way to burn calories and destress. It’s also helpful to park further away than you normally do because this gives you the opportunity to have a short walk twice a day. By making it a habit to take the stairs instead of the elevator, you’ll increase your calorie burn that much more. Another important dietary concern is water. If you have ever felt that mid-afternoon lull, it’s probably because you’re dehydrated. You can stay hydrated by drinking at least eight to ten glasses of water every day. To make it easier to do this, bring a 16-ounce bottle of water to work in the morning and finish it by lunch. Fill it and finish that bottle by three o’clock and finish a third bottle by the time you go home. It can be helpful to set an alarm to remind you to refill the bottle. Many foods are also good sources of water, like oranges, grapefruit, grapes, watermelon and apples.
While these are all great tips for managing stress at work, an area that you should also be focusing on is work-life balance. Work will invade your personal life, if you let it, which makes maintaining a balance a difficult task. Thanks to technology, we are able to have constant connection to work. This can cause the mentality that you must always be on, which is known as workaholism. When you have this, you often feel compelled to go above and beyond. So, what will help you reach a healthier balance? When you have a job that fits you and your lifestyle, it just feels right and it will allow you to have healthier habits. Keep in mind that the right work-life balance is variable for each person and changes depending on things going on in their life, like the age of their children/parents or the individual has a new health problem. Work-life balance can be especially difficult for parents of young children. Almost 60%t of employed first-time mothers return to work within 12 weeks after childbirth. This perfectly demonstrates that work-life balance affects not just the well-being of individuals, but their families and communities. There are numerous consequences of not having a balanced lifestyle. Poor health usually goes hand-in-hand with poor work-life balance. Fatigue can significantly impact your ability to work productively and think clearly, not just at work, but at home, too. You miss out on important family events or milestones because of being at or doing work. Also, due the amount of time you put into work, your superiors will increase their expectations of you, which usually means added responsibilities and this only makes things worse. If you are working on a project, it isn’t uncommon to work long stretches of long days. This can greatly impact your health because your stress level is often really high, which can affect your relationships and mood. If this goes on for too long your immune system can be impaired, interferes with the amount of sleep you get and impacts your ability to concentrate. Some ways to see if your work-life balance is good is by asking yourself the following questions: Are you able to meet work and nonwork needs? How often is there conflict between your varied roles? Do you have enough time to pursue activities that tend to your health, nurture nonwork interests and to rest after all of your hard work?
Sadly, many organizations and corporations are focused on profits and other efficiency indicators to the point that they ignore workplace stress and provide an inadequate number of vacation and sick days. Thankfully, it’s becoming clearer that a workforce that has employees who have the positive energy, capabilities, vitality and resources to meet current and future organizational performance demands while supporting their economic and mental health in and out of work is accomplished through better work-life balances. Studies are finding that employees who feel well taken care of by their employer are more committed, display on-the-job energy, are more involved, have a sense of efficacy, likely to go beyond the call of duty and are supportive of other employees. This will not only increase productivity, but will create a sustainable workforce that doesn’t become burned-out. When employees are burned-out, they’re exhausted, cynical and put forth little effort. Burnout has a number of causes, including work overload, lacking control over work or workplace, unresolved conflicts and perceptions of unfair workloads/pay/evaluations. To assess if your job is causing you to feel burned out, ask yourself these questions: Do you feel that the environment you work in is intense and leaves you mentally/physically stressed? Are you undervalued and underpaid? Do you not feel motivated when you’re at work because of these and other factors?
There are several steps you can take to manage your work-life balance. The most important way to do this is to actively manage your time by getting rid of or delegating activities that you don’t enjoy or can’t handle. Making daily to-do lists—one for home and one for work—is a great way to keep track of what you need to actually do each day. It’s helpful to put family events on a weekly calendar. Remember, it’s ok to respectfully say no to anything that you don’t want to do. Cut the number of times you check emails to no more than three times a day—late morning, early afternoon and late in the day. This is essential because if you access email first thing in the morning, you often end up focusing on other people’s issues before doing what you need to do. If you have the option for flex hours, a compressed workweek, job sharing, telecommuting or other scheduling flexibility take advantage of it. It’s vital to minimize interruptions while you’re working because when you’re interrupted during a task, you need double or triple the time of the interruption to regain full concentration. Also, most people can sustain a maximum level of concentration for no more than 90 minutes and then their ability to retain information decreases dramatically. If after making changes you aren’t feeling more satisfied with your work-life balance, you might want to consider a new job. It’s a good idea to identify the aspects of your current job that you are unhappiest with and take the time to write them down so you can make the opposite a top priority in your search for a new job. Reach out to your network of people and let them know that you’re seeking new opportunities. If have sent out your resume, sometime has passed and you haven’t heard back from anyone, try adjusting some of the keywords on it. When you’re interviewing, it’s not only what you say, but it’s also what you don’t say. Remember to search, not settle for a job and that it doesn’t have to be a 24/7 endeavor because this will only add to your stress.
A healthy at home lifestyle is essential to coping with work stress and achieving a better work-life balance. Eat a healthy diet isn’t just for when you’re at work, but all of the time. So is getting enough sleep. It’s helpful to avoid using personal electronic devices, such as tablets, just before bedtime because the blue light emitted by these devices decreases your level of melatonin, the hormone associated with sleep. Be sure to make time for fun and relaxation by setting aside time each day for an activity that you enjoy. It’s also fun to discover new activities you can do with your partner, family or friends. While pursuing your interests be sure to not over schedule yourself. It’s fundamental to boost your support system by joining forces with co-workers who can cover for you, and vice versa, when family conflicts come up. You can also do this at home by asking for help from trusted friends and loved ones. In addition, it’s a good idea to disinfectant your work station and home regularly to prevent yourself from becoming sick.
The thing you probably wanted to hear the most is that taking a vacation is extremely beneficial. This is definitely true because it allows you time to recharge, reduce stress and get your mind off work. All of us have lives that are filled with some form of stress and this chronic stress takes its toll in part on our body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, avoid injury, be less irritable and decrease depression/anxiety. Stress also affects your memory and results in poor decision making. Vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle. The key is to not bring work with you and to not constantly check your email (check it once a day or once every couple of days, if you feel that you need to check it at all). There are numerous benefits to taking vacations. These benefits can extend to family relationships, if you are taking a trip together. In order to not feel stressed during your trip, plan ahead by researching what’s available at your vacation destination and know the rules and regulations for traveling on your particular airline. Make it an adventure by trying something new and don’t feel guilty about going. It’s a good idea to pack for contingencies and leave enough room in your luggage for souvenirs. Bring some cash, but not too much, copy your passport and bring both with you (if traveling outside the country), check the drawers in your hotel room before you leave, know which type of plugs are in the countries that you’ll be visiting and don’t forget your charging cables. By doing all of these things, your help make your vacation the getaway that you need to destress.
Work-life balance is key having a healthy and happy life. The best way to do this starts with knowing yourself and your limits. Next, you need to create a boundary between your work life and your home life because unless you do, it won’t exist. The most important thing to remember is that no job should cost you your health!