Health benefits of good work

Working Well… The 5th Pillar of Health?

You’ve heard about the 4 pillars of health – exercise, diet/hydration, sleep and stress management. Work may seem an odd choice if there were to be a 5th pillar, right?

But work, when in the right environment, is good for you. Really good in fact.

Believe it or not, it’s true! Good work is beneficial for your health – and it’s backed by strong evidence from the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM).


The Importance of “Good” Work

We’ve talked before about the benefits of work for our wellbeing – work forms part of our identity, it gives us meaning and purpose, and routine to our week. A good job will help to increase confidence and self-esteem, can provide an opportunity for positive social engagement, and keeps the mind (and body, in some cases!) active. Plus, having goals or new challenges to work towards is great for our mental health. 

In our day-to-day clinical practice, we often see that people who are unable to work as a result of their injury or illness will struggle with the disruption to their usual routine. Many people feel that they have lost a part of themselves! Our clients are usually happy to be returning to work at the end of their program. 

Most people gain great benefits from working, far beyond the financial benefits. Just think, how often do you see retired people looking for volunteer work to fill their time?


But work, when in the wrong environment, can have the opposite effect. Jobs that leave employees feeling unsupported, that are filled with negative social encounters, or that lack diversity or challenge, are likely to have negative implications instead. In fact, often these situations are a trigger for some of the mental health claimants we work with – the work environment being the straw that broke the camel’s back. Decreased confidence, withdrawal from social engagement, a lack of self-worth, loss of interest in life… It can go both ways. 

Considering the power that work holds to provide either a positive or negative effect, should employers be giving it more thought to the well-being of their staff? 


Let us introduce… HBGW

HBGW = the Health Benefits of Good Work. 

Established in 2015 – by the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM) of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) – this initiative highlights the role that work has on health and wellbeing. 

Their commitment is to educate companies and employers, by spreading the word of the power of good work. 


This comes two-fold:

  • Supporting employers to create a healthy work environment – by looking at the steps that employers can take to create a positive workplace for their staff,
  • Teaching employers how to support the return to work of staff who are away due to illness or injury – by looking at the steps that employers can take to minimise the negative outcomes of sick leave or disability related absence from work.

It’s something that all workplaces should know and strive towards. A good workplace makes a happy and healthy workforce, after all. A happy and healthy workforce makes for more engaged staff, increased productivity, and less absenteeism from work. Everyone wins!


A Few Key (Evidence Based) Messages from the HBGW (1) to consider …

  • The longer someone is off work, the less chance they have of ever returning.
  • Good work is a therapeutic intervention, it is part of treatment. We hear you on this one HBGW! We’ve written about work being a form of therapy previously.
  • Employer-supported, early return to work helps recovery, prevents de-conditioning and helps provide patients with appropriate social contacts and support mechanisms.
  • Practical ways of assisting patients back to employment and optimum functioning include:
      • Recommending a graduated increase in activity
      • Setting a timeline for return to work where practicable
      • Modifying the workplace and work duties to allow return to work
      • Collaboratively identifying obstacles and solutions in the workplace


The HBGW are Looking for Signatories across Australia and New Zealand

Does this sound like something you could get on board with?

The Health Benefits of Good Work are looking for companies that have these same values to join the signatory list and help to spread the word (you’ll find our name on the list!). 

Becoming a signatory means that you agree with the consensus statement created by the Health Benefits of Good Work, and that you will strive to support the principles within your own company. You can read the consensus statement here

Do you believe that work could be the 5th pillar of health? Are you in a position to make work become a positive health factor in your workplace? Join the movement and spread the word!


For more reading:


Author: Yolanda van Vugt
Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Content Creator at Specialised Health


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