Health at Work: Can You Be Literally Sick of It?

Learn about how your work environment can impact your physical health. Get tips on how to make your health better by managing you work environment.

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Since we are psychologists, we don’t usually talk a lot about physical health. But, being well is so important, physically and mentally. Can you literally be “sick” of work? The answer is yes. But, how does work take a toll on you and what can be done to avoid it? Read more for my tips on how to maximize your physical health while still achieving your work goals.

Health is Linked to the Work Environment

One major impediment to your physical health is the work environment itself. Research shows, across almost 80 studies, that job characteristics predict physical health. But which characteristics are important? If you don’t have the information that you need to do your job, you might feel worse. If you don’t have the authority to make decisions that directly affect your work, your health also decreases. Finally, if you are spread too thin or you don’t have the proper resources to do your job, you might get sick.

A lot of these things might seem out of your control – and maybe they are. But, if you can advocate for better access to information, greater decision making authority, time, or resources, you should. Sometimes a conversation can go a long way. If you feel like you can’t have these conversations with your manager, ask others around you who seem less stretched for advice. If you are a manager, ask yourself if your employees are in a healthy environment – or if the environment is making them sick. You should look yourself in the mirror and take action, regardless of whether you like what you find.

look at the big picture of your health
When it comes to your health, don’t miss the forest for the trees. Take a step back and look at your health holistically!

Work Hours May Negatively Impact Health

While it seems pretty straightforward, the longer and harder you work, the more your physical health may be impacted. More classic meta-analytical work shows that longer work hours may lead to decreased healthiness. This means that you might need to be more vigilant about setting regular work hours. However, this can be hard to do, depending on what job you’re in and your work environment. Research shows that certain jobs are more demanding than others, but that those demands have a negative impact on you when they are extreme.

In other words, a moderate amount of work hours are good for you. People like the challenge. But, once those hours get to be greater than 40 hours per week, health decreases. Again, you may be able to have a conversation with your manager about setting reasonable work hours. Or you might advocate for more flexible policies. As a manager, though, you should encourage employees to work smarter – not harder!

long hours decrease health
Long work hours can have a downside for health. Are you keeping track of when you’re “on”?

Psychological Illness May Be a Precursor to Physical Illness

Further, research shows that your psychological health may be an indicator of bad physical health to come. Further, work strain, meaning that you find your job to be stressful, is predictive of psychological health and physical health, as a result. So, you should pay attention if you’re starting to feel more burnt out or depressed than usual. These might be indicators that your physical health will be negatively impacted.

Being in tune with yourself is key. It can be easy to ignore your feelings when you’re busy. But, prioritizing your feelings can really help you to stay ahead of physical health impacts. Taking time off or spending your weekends replenishing and disconnecting can help. This is especially important because bad physical health will ultimately make you worse at your job. So, you can’t keep pushing this off without a consequence. If you’re a manager, check in with your employees. How are they feeling? If you’re not being responsive to their needs, your team and their work, will ultimately suffer.

conflict is bad for health
If you are battling with others, your health might be decreased. Having a conversation might help!

Conflict Needs to Be Eliminated to Improve Health

If you are getting mixed signals from others, or you don’t get along with others, your health will be negatively impacted. This means that when one boss says something and another boss says something else, employees suffer. Or when employees are in-fighting and not getting along, people get sick.

This is particularly true with regard to gastrointestinal issues, backaches, and bad sleep patterns. In other words, when you are unsure of where you stand with regard to your job or with other people, you feel sick to your stomach, you have more pain, and you can’t rest well. So, if you’re getting mixed signals, maybe try to have a sit-down with both sources of information to sort things out. If you’re having conflict, a good heart-to-heart might do well to improve the situation. For managers, making sure that you’re coordinating information and keeping abreast of conflict is key. Team-building and communication can go a long way in making sure that your employees feel comfortable with one another.

Overall, physical health is important. If you’re sick, you can’t do anything well. Your job has a lot to do with your wellbeing. So, slow down and take stock of how healthy you are. Of course, going to your doctor once a year and specialists as needed, is also crucial. How do you prioritize your health at work? How do you manage others with their health in mind? We have also talked about the importance of physical health recently on our podcast. But, we would love to hear from you!

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