Working, in general, is good for your mental health. In Germany, according to RP Online, people who don’t work are sick more often due to mental health reasons than people who work. They report that unemployed people are sick an average of 5.5 days per year due to psychological reasons, while for those who are employed, that number drops to 1.3. In the book, Rush, by Todd Buchholz, he provides a possible explanation. Buchholz explains how the brain has evolved to think about and plan the future, therefore, being idle all the time “confounds and frustrates the frontal lobe.” Having a job keeps your brain thinking forward.
Just having a job usually isn’t enough. There are many factors about specific work positions that can contribute to our well-being (or lack thereof). According to Focus.de, people who are happy at work suffer from less burnout and are more satisfied in general. When work atmospheres and work relationships are positive, it is reflected in people’s quality of work. Content employees tend to be more reliable, more creative, more effective and set higher goals for themselves. Health.com reports that in order to maintain a healthy balance at work, employees need respect, benefits, wellness incentives and the ability to exercise some control over their productivity.
Aside from the external factors, the amount of enthusiasm we have about what we do is also important. If there’s a lack of passion, the job won’t be satisfying. We all have an emotional need to be challenged and we find satisfaction in meeting those challenges. This fights boredom, invites engagement and our self-esteem grows with every success.
As far as physical health goes, the story is a bit more direct. Physically intensive jobs like firefighters or police officers have high on-the-job injury rates, plus they are extraordinarily stressful due to workers having to be on high alert at all times. According to Health.com, “more firefighters actually die of heart attacks on the job than they do from going into burning buildings.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, sedentary jobs can also lead to long-term health problems. Sitting for long periods, even if people exercise before or after work, can lead to back pain, repetitive stress injuries, obesity, and heart disease.
Our bodies are very smart. They tell us when we aren’t happy, or when something about our environment is unhealthy. The trick is learning to listen to the cues. There is a connection between stress and immune systems, so if we are very often sick or fatigued, it would be best to consider why. If it stems from our work, perhaps a change of some kind is in order.
This is a tough one to answer and completely subjective. As we are all different, what’s good for one person may not be good for another. For example, do you like working in a team or solo? Do you like working with adults or kids? Do you enjoy having a regular schedule or do you prefer flexibility? Health.com recommends finding the right position to fit your personality as well as taking care of yourself while on the job and in your free time. In general, aim for being around the people and things that make you the happiest. Then you will be productive, happier and healthier.