How healthy is your workplace?
Considering that the average adult spends at least 40 hours a week there, your place of work is a major part of your complete wellbeing.
Workplace safety and the prevention of injury are very important, but just as your health is more than the treatment of disease, there's much more to your workplace health.
How does your work contribute to the stress in your life? How does it affect your sleep? Is your work meaningful to you? Is what you do aligned with your deepest values? Do you feel physically well at the end of your shift? Do you have positive relationships with the people with whom you work? At the end of each day, are you happy to come home because of a job well done... or are you just relieved that it's finally over?
In an ideal world, each of us would meet our calling in our work. We would make a living doing what we love to do. Our unique talents and experiences-along with the support and resources we are given-would be met by the challenges of each day. Our work would be meaningful to us, and at the end of each day, we would feel we have made a positive difference.
But of course, in the real world, many of us are just working to pay the bills and to keep food on the table. As one of my best friends says, "It's just a job." At different points in our lives, our circumstances are such that we have to settle for a job that we don't find particularly meaningful, challenging or the opposite -way too stressful.
But our ideals-and our dreams-are worthwhile considering if you are a young person weighing your vocational options, an adult looking for work, a boss trying to engage employees, or a worker wondering how things could be better.
Just as we don't have complete control over the circumstances of our lives and our physical health, we have to pause and consider those things that we can influence. When I work with patients with a chronic health condition such as congestive heart failure or diabetes, we focus on the things they can do to maintain mastery over their health-what activities will improve their condition, what types of food will reduce potential complications and what they need to moni-tor to slow down the progression of disease.
A sense of control and recognizing that our actions can make a positive difference can make us empowered and engaged patients. Without that sense of control, we feel overwhelmed and anxious, demoralized and depressed. Our emotional state can influence our physical state.
If you're an employer or supervisor, it's crucial that you keep your staff members informed of changes that will affect them personally and wherever possible, consult them and elicit their feedback. Engaged and empowered employees will not only be happier and less stressed; they will be more productive.
With corporate downsizing and layoffs, the demands on individual employees can be overwhelming. If workers are not given sufficient time, training and support to meet their assigned tasks, they are set up for failure, stress and burnout.
We have to be vigilant of the signs that workers-or we ourselves-are becoming significantly anxious or depressed. Productivity plummets, and employees become physically or psychiatrically ill. These are the usual reasons that employees will need to stop work and go on "stress leave."
In my next column, I'll explore work stress-it's recognition, management and prevention, and in upcoming columns and my website, other important aspects of workplace health.
Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His column appears regularly in this paper. You can find his posts at davidicuswong. wordpress.com and listen to his Positive Potential Medicine podcasts at wgrnradio.com.