Work plays a large part in most of our lives because of the time it takes and the opportunities it offers us (or not), which means it impacts our overall health and well-being, for better or for worse .
When work is associated with well-being
Some research has found that job satisfaction is positively associated with overall well-being. Study subjects who were satisfied at work rated their current well-being, on average, at 7.3 out of 10, while those who were dissatisfied at work rated their well-being, on average, at 6 out of 10. (Well-being, ai purposes of this study, it was measured by daily positive and negative emotional experiences and current and future life evaluation.)
There is also research to show that simply being employed in a job that you enjoy and that pays fairly can have positive effects on your overall health.
— Eve Anderson, 30, landscaper based in Raleigh, North Carolina
Researchers found in another study that for adults aged 50 to 64 in 15 European countries, people with better job quality – measured by a combination of job satisfaction, job security and pay – had reported significantly lower levels of musculoskeletal disorders and functional disabilities (difficulty performing daily activities for independent living), better mental health, and better self-rated general health than those with lower quality of work.
In short, how much we get paid and how safe we believe our jobs are can affect our health, as well as how satisfied we feel about our jobs.
Dr. Pernell adds that feeling valued and respected by our employers, especially our direct managers, can make day-to-day work less stressful, positively impacting health and well-being.
In September, Anderson took a job as a city planner for the city of Cary, North Carolina. “There’s a completely different approach to management style here, and I feel like I’m being treated like an adult,” she says.
“There is an understanding that I will be in the office most of the time and work more than 40 hours a week when necessary. But there’s still a lot of flexibility to live my life and to do the things I have to do during the day to take care of myself,” she says.
Anderson says she feels like she has a healthy balance between enjoying her job, but also being able to live a full life outside of it.
Workaholic: when work gets in the way of well-being
Rodney Lustre, PhD, licensed professional consultant and senior director of research, innovation and development strategy in the College of Doctoral Studies at the University of Phoenix in Arizona, says workaholism (which he defines as the endless pursuit of self-validating by working too much) increases stress and may be associated with lower self-esteem.
A study published in January 2018 in the journal Personality and individual differences looked at data from 414 adult participants, some employed by a university and some by a large manufacturing organization. According to the data, low self-esteem led to workaholism, and workaholism led to more work stress and increased stress in general.
Many people get medical insurance through work
Another key link between health care jobs is that health insurance (and therefore access to affordable health care) is typically tied to full-time employment in the United States.
According to the US Census Bureau, 88% of full-time workers had health insurance in 2020, compared to 67% of those working less than full-time, year-round.
That doesn’t mean you need a full-time job to have access to affordable health care or insurance. There are healthcare options for the self-employed as well, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (which passed into law in 2010) and the Healthcare Insurance Marketplace established within the US Department of Health and Human Services. But the costs to individuals and families on these plans can be high.
When the pandemic hit and she was still a program manager at Harvard, James took on a few one-time jobs to help build experiential learning experiences because remote work suddenly became an option. She soon had enough work to quit her full-time college job and focus entirely on her own consulting business, Salt Meadow Consulting.
She now pays more in health insurance premium costs than she did when she was employed at Harvard. But her total income is about 30 percent higher, so even after accounting for those health insurance costs, she’s taking home more pay (and working far fewer hours).
She says, however, that if she had or planned to have children, self-employment probably wouldn’t be realistic because of how much those premiums would cost.