Many will consider the main benefit of a job their salary, but according to ‘Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper’ [2016], there is another benefit to having a job which is arguably much more important.

And that is that the right job is good for your health and can promote recovery.

Research has suggested that the right job can be positively life changing; it can support mental and physical health, give individuals a sense of purpose, improve their self-esteem and self-confidence, and also create opportunities to build relationships that help to avoid the emotion of loneliness.

How being out of work can affect your health

Being out of work is associated with a range of poor health outcomes. The longer someone is away from work, the harder it is for them to get back to work and the more their health and wellbeing is likely to deteriorate. People who are unemployed have found to have shown the following traits: higher rates of physical and mental health problems, a tendency to take more medication, increased use of medical services, and a shorter life expectancy.

Dr Paul Holmes, head of exercise and sports science at Manchester Metropolitan University believes that daily tasks and making decisions at work could protect us from depression.

He said: ‘Lack of contact and decision making can result in loss of control which can affect people’s state of mind. This can lead to lethargy and withdrawal, which in turn, can lead to some illnesses such as depression.’ [1]

According to a landmark study by a team of researchers at the London School of Economics, ‘most human misery can be blamed on failed relationships and physical and mental illness rather than money problems and poverty’ (LSE).

The researchers found that if we were to eliminate depression and anxiety, it would reduce misery by 20% compared to just 5% if policymakers focused on eliminating poverty. [2] This highlights how important it is to consider what impact our job can have on our health, as this research suggests that our health seems to make more of a difference to our lives than what is in our bank account.

What can employers do to support health at work?

According to the Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper, employees are not being supported to stay healthy when in work or to manage a condition that could lead to them falling out of work.

Academics and organisations, such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists and NICE recognise that health influences work, and work influences health. They can either work together, or the workplace can be unsupportive, in which case health and work systems can work against each other.

Employers should encourage staff to stay healthy by investing in training and carrying out activities to raise awareness of health conditions. They should recognise that they need to invest in their workforce, not only to benefit their employees but also to create numerous benefits for the business, including improved staff engagement and retention of employees, which will consequently create gains for performance and productivity.

Attitudes towards work can make a significant impact on an individual’s health. Gallup found that only 13% of workers feel engaged by their jobs. These people feel a sense of passion for their work, and they spend their days helping to move their organisations forward. Highly engaged employees are less likely to report workplace stress, will take fewer day’s sickness absence, and will make the most productive and happiest employees.

Employers need to create environments where employees feel able to disclose health issues and where companies can act on that information to improve employee health. Contact between the employer and an employee are imperative. Evidence shows that phased returns to work from sickness absence can see workers return quicker and stay in employment longer.

Related: Stress at work: Symptoms, causes and how to beat it

Fair Society, Healthy Lives [3] provided evidence that the conditions in which people are born, live and work are the fundamental drivers of health and health inequalities. Individuals in work tend to enjoy happier and healthier lives than those who are not in work. It can help us to recover from sickness quicker, and we are at less risk of long term illness and incapacity from being in work.

But of course, the type of job matters and some jobs come with more health risk than others. Typically, the beneficial effects of work outweigh the risks of work and are greater than the harmful effects of long-term unemployment or prolonged sickness absence. Work is generally good for health and wellbeing.

[3] Marmot, M. Fair society, healthy lives: the Marmot Review: strategic review of health inequalities in England post-2010