The Value of Work for Wellbeing

Ahh, work…  How about a 365 day holiday every year?

It may sound appealing at first… the value of work can often be underestimated.

Work impacts our mental health in positive ways (beyond the numbers in the bank account!).

Not working for extended periods can actually have a negative impact on our health and quality of life. Those who are unemployed are more at risk of mental and physical health concerns – higher frequency of illness, higher hospital admissions, higher medication usage and higher mortality rates.

Is it time to rethink ‘work’?

Work forms a central part of our identity

You meet someone new while out at a friends BBQ and they ask you what you do for a living. How do you answer? “I’m a plumber.” “I’m an accountant.” “I’m a nurse.” We could say “I work as a plumber”, but instead we categorize ourselves as if to embody our occupation, the same way we would say “I’m a man / woman”, or “I’m an Australian / New Zealander.”

What happens to that part of our identity when we are not working???


Work provides a feeling of purpose and meaning

Work can give us a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It gives us something to do, a role to play where we feel useful and needed, contributing to our community, or even family. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from knowing that you are making a difference and that your efforts are valued.


Work increases confidence and self-esteem

Problem solving and successfully overcoming challenges at work prove to ourselves what we are capable of. This aids in our own feelings of confidence, value and self-worth.

In a positive work environment, our occupation can also provide us a huge opportunity for new learning, continued education and skill development, allowing us to grow in positive ways.


Work supports structure and routine

If the recent Covid lock-down’s have showed us anything, it’s the value of forced routine!

It wasn’t uncommon for people to report starting times getting later, lunch times extended, and motivation lower when working from home? Did those sloppy work habits have flow on effects to other aspects of life also, like bedtimes, alcohol consumption, screen time, unnecessary snacking? If the so-reported Covid kilos have much to prove – it’s that being required to stick to a forced structure or timeline has benefits for more than just our work productivity!


Work provides an opportunity for social engagement

Community and connection are so important for mental health. Whether or not you consider your colleagues as ‘friends’, they provide an opportunity to engage and connect with others, reducing feelings of isolation, and increasing your network of contacts.

They can also provide a certain element of support by being able to relate to your work stories! Outside of work as well, working helps to foster social engagement because it gives you something to talk with your friends and family about.


Work keeps the mind (and/or body!) active

Ever heard the phrase “use it or lose it”? Work can provide a form of cognitive, or physical, activity to keep us independent and functional for longer. By keeping the mind active, it also provides an opportunity to disengage from some of the other things that may be happening in your personal life. When it comes to mental health conditions, this distraction from ruminating thoughts or anxieties can be a huge advantage!


Author:  Yolanda van Vugt (Exercise Physiologist Auckland, NZ)

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