Mental Health Training

Toil & Trouble: Is work good for you? By Jane McNeice

Posted by on 17 Feb, 2016 in Mental Health | 0 comments

Toil & Trouble: Is work good for you? By Jane McNeice

Despite the ‘finished shift’ or ‘Friday feeling’, or indeed our thorough appreciation of an early ‘clock off’, or time off work for holidays and weekends (for those who have weekends off work that is) how often do you stop to consider whether your work or occupation does or doesn’t make you happy, or whether work or not working is actually good or bad for your health? We often give due consideration to nutrition, diet, weight, exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking, and other more obvious health impacting areas, but do we stop to think that there’s also a health work relationship which exists?

With much rhetoric surrounding work related stress issues and the so-called ‘toxic’ workplace, characterised by chronic high stress levels, low morale, lack of work-life balance, unrealistic expectations, lack of loyalty, poor leadership and communication, scapegoating, and dysfunctional relationships, one could be forgiven for thinking that work is detrimental to our health. But this is not what we would describe as ‘Good work’.

Think instead about a life without an activity you find meaningful or purposeful, a day without structure or a reason to get up in the morning, and the satisfaction that comes with knowing you’ve completed your duties for the day in a supportive workplace environment, not to mention the extrinsic rewards of pay and other benefits. A robust evidence base illustrates that good work and meaningful activity are extremely good for our health and mental wellbeing (Waddell & Burton, 2006). In fact, unemployment significantly increases the risk of suicide, with unemployed men being 2-3 times more at risk than employed men, and women 4-6 times more at risk (O-Brien, 2016). Research is widespread and insurmountable for why work is good for our health, and unemployment not so.

“Those who are off work for any reason (lay-off, compensation, fired, etc) have a higher mortality risk rate than for any occupation, even the most dangerous. In fact so heightened is the risk from suicide, cirrhosis, and other stress-related diseases while not working, that being unemployed is equivalent to smoking 10 packs of cigarettes per day.” (Ross, 1995)

If we are out of work through circumstances such as redundancy, ill health, or other termination of employment, it is essential that we seek to minimise the negative effects to our health and mental wellbeing. In particular pursuing further work should be a top priority, not just for our bank balance and/or creditors, but also for a number of other reasons, and most importantly for our health. During a period of unemployment it is important to maintain things like structure within your day e.g. getting up early as if going to work, having a plan for the day – particularly if the plan involves structured activities that will aid employment at the earliest opportunity such as completing application forms, updating and circulating our CV, or job searching.

Furthermore, great benefits exist around other forms of meaningful activity and opportunities for up-skilling e.g. further or higher education, or volunteering, which not surprisingly is supported by similar evidence in terms of its substantial benefits to both physical and mental health.

Volunteering was shown to decrease mortality and to improve self-rated health, mental health, life satisfaction, social interaction, healthy behaviors and coping ability.Cassidy et al (2008)

So if the above benefits of employment and meaningful activity are the case, then why do we so thoroughly enjoy our time off work? Put simply, work gives meaning to our leisure time – it’s the time off ‘ying’ to our working ‘yang’. We enjoy our time off because we work, and without work, yes we are risking our health and mental wellbeing. So next time you have a stressful or difficult day at work, yes reflect on this and try to make changes where you can, which may include raising issues with the appropriate staff within the workplace – Mind Matters most certainly doesn’t advocate tolerating ‘toxic’ workplaces – but also think about and appreciate the benefits of the working day, while helping to maintain your health and mental wellbeing.


Casiday R, Kinsman E, Fisher C, Bambra C (2008) Volunteering and health: what impact does it really have? Final report to Volunteering England. London, UK: Volunteering England

O’Brien (2016) Psychology for Social Work: A comprehensive guide to human growth and development. London: Palgrave

Ross, John F (1995) Risk: Where do real dangers lie? Smithsonian (1995) pp 42-53

Waddell, Gordon & Burton, Tim (2006) Is work good for your health and wellbeing? London: TSO

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