Job promotions improve health
Filed under: Career
The study by two economists doesn't make for great reading for the many stuck in unfulfilling jobs thanks to widespread spending cuts. So how can you help prevent your job from damaging your health?
The key finding is the outcome of a study by Michael Anderson, assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London. The two economists tracked the employment histories and health outcomes of 4,700 civil servants in the London area.
They found that those civil servants in departments with high rates of promotion were around 20% less likely to develop heart disease than their counterparts in departments with low rates of promotion.
Through observing that the number of promotions within a civil service department is typically determined by funding constraints and past hiring decisions, they claim that differences in health across departments are likely to be a result of different promotion rates, rather than a cause of different promotion rates.
Their study, The Effects of Promotions on Heart Disease: Evidence from Whitehall, to be published in the June edition of the Economic Journal, concludes that the department you work in can significantly affect your chances of developing heart disease. The two claim their findings reinforce a growing body of research that indicates upward mobility and socioeconomic status have important effects on physical health.
So in addition to expressing talent and ambition to climb up the career ladder, how else can you ward off ill-health in the workplace?
One in four workers display mental health problems, according to a study by PruHealth that reveals a lack of support from bosses and fears over job security and pay have caused stress levels to increase for almost half (45%) of us in last 12 months.
"Stress, depression or anxiety are so prevalent in the workplace they now account for the most days lost due to work-related ill health, said Dr Dawn Richards, head of clinical services at PruHealth. "This is not only bad for people's health and wellbeing, it is bad for business as it costs employers nearly £26 billion each year in sickness absence, reduced productivity and employee turnover."
Shouting or swearing at a colleague or being unfairly short with them are among the most common signs of workplace tension, while witnessing a colleague break down and cry or lash out by hitting office equipment are other increasingly frequent occurrences.
Metal health issues remain a taboo subject yet the best way to deal with a problem - whether in yourself or others – is to talk about it to your manager or a trusted colleague. "The first step to dealing with stress and mental illness is recognising it exists and how common it is," adds Richards. "Early intervention and putting the right coping mechanisms in place are very important to nip symptoms in the bud, which is why awareness amongst individuals and employers alike is critical."
Back pain is the second most common cause of long-term sickness in the UK after stress. Around 9.3 million working days are lost each year due to work-related back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders, according to the NHS. Office workers faced with long periods stuck in front of a computer screen are at high risk but there are a number of tricks you can do on a daily basis to prevent
Seat position is key, explains Jatinder Benepal, the owner of ISIS Chiropractic Centres. "Adjust your seat so that your feet are flat on the floor, your knees are slightly lower than your hips and your eyes are level with the centre of the computer screen. Relax your shoulder blades when sitting and make sure you keep you bottom against the seat back."
Limiting the length of time in front of the screen is also important and workers should aim to take a short break every 30-40 minutes to stretch and walk around, and avoid eating lunch at your desk. For frequent phone users who find themselves cradling a handset between their neck and shoulder whilst multi-tasking on calls – consider opting for a headset instead.
"Excessive use of track pads and mini joysticks on laptops can cause a strain of the hand muscles," adds Benepal. "So whenever possible, use a normal keypad and mouse, and have your eyes tested regularly. Squinting at a screen can also make you hunch towards your computer."
Health and fitness
Being physically fit and healthy is not only good for your body - it is beneficial for your mental state too and can help beat issues such as stress and depression. Starting the day in a positive frame of mind is crucial to your wellbeing and performance at work, explains Chris Jones, head of physiology at Nuffield Health" "Ensure you get good quality sleep and are properly recharged each day by trying to avoid too many caffeinated drinks and alcohol the night before so you wake up feeling refreshed."
Breakfast is also key to help stabilize blood sugar levels. "Cortisol (the major stress hormone) is increased when your blood sugar levels drop too low, which can increase feelings of anxiety and stress," adds Jones. What you eat is also important so focus on regular meals and pack in lots of fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks like nuts, seeds and wholegrains.
While it may sometimes feel like there isn't enough time in the working day to squeeze in a fitness class or gym session, long hours in the office make it all the more important to find the time either before or after work or during your lunch break. Exercise after work is particularly effective. "If you have built up stress hormones over the day, do some gentle aerobic exercise such as a light jog, swim or cycle," adds Jones.
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