A question that I often ponder as a physiotherapist, not only from my own perspective, but also from my patients’ – Is work good for my health and wellbeing?
I regularly notice the hollow feeling inside my stomach and the gag reflex as I brush my teeth, while I prepare for going to work. This is the usual pattern. This is not right; this is not doing meaningful work?
The “Squawk” of the parrot on my shoulder reminds me that I should be grateful to have a job, especially in the current economic climate. The parrot shakes its head with disapproval as I try to defend my position: I hate my job!
I have felt this way for nineteen years, until a recent personal problem has alerted me to take action – albeit at a time of harsh austerity measures and general economic meltdown. But, I have to do something. Jonathan Dawson, of Schumacher college said, “Why waste a crisis?” He’s absolutely right.
I see my NHS patients struggle into the department with pain and disability. A web of psychosocial factors influence their pain experience – many patients are unhappy, and don’t know why. I am unhappy, and don’t know why. My head spins with the reasons for persistent pain as we are such complex human beings. I want to leave the pain research to the medical boffins, for fear my head will explode into dust if I continue to learn about pain! I help people every day, but it doesn’t seem to help me. Why?
I study the effects of work on people. I read an independent review, commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions, which examines the scientific evidence of whether work is actually good for us. What does the report say, you may ask? Well, the following is a simple summary of the key points from an otherwise in-depth review, in that *work is:
- Generally the most important means of obtaining adequate economic resources, which are essential for material wellbeing and full participation in today’s society;
- Work meets important psychosocial needs in societies where employment is the norm;
- Work is central to individual identity, social roles and social status;
- Employment and socio-economic status are the main drivers of social gradients in physical and mental health and mortality.
Conversely, unemployment leads to:
- Higher mortality;
- Poorer general health, long-standing illness, limiting longstanding illness;
- Poorer mental health, psychological distress, minor psychological/psychiatric morbidity;
- Higher medical consultation, medication consumption and hospital admission rates.
I am currently working, but I am often unhappy – my heart is heavy. Am I a freak of nature? My job makes me feel ill.
“It is not possible to say whether paid employment is what matters for health, or if any form of purposeful and meaningful ‘work’ may be equally good.”
Okay, this is hopeful. It may not be ‘a job’ that’s important – meaningful and values-led work may also be valid? When I volunteer or follow my interests, I mindfully notice that I am content.
Eureka … a proviso! “Work is generally good for your health and wellbeing, provided that you have ‘a good job’. The characteristics that distinguish ‘good’ jobs and ‘good’ workplaces include: safety, fair pay, social gradients in health , job security, personal fulfillment and development, investing in human capital, accommodating, supportive & non-discriminatory, control/autonomy, job satisfaction and good communications.”
Bingo! This sentence resonates with me: is my job actually ‘a good job’ for me? Is this the breakthrough I look for – the final ‘kick up the backside’ to make a shift in my life? I’d say, “yes it is.” My current job is not ‘a good job’ for me. I am, in my opinion: underutilised, undervalued, oppressively controlled and unsatisfied in my NHS job.
So, this is me – a little frightened by the prospect of my imminent career change, but relieved that I have control of my career direction. It may not be easy, I know – I choose to follow my intuition rather than my parrot “squawk”. ‘Business as usual’ is no longer on the table…
* Work is not only ‘a job’ or paid employment, but includes unpaid or voluntary work, education and training, family responsibilities and caring.