Fundamental connections: how employment influences health

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A person who is employed full-time spends one third of his or her day at work, five days a week. This significant time commitment can affect one’s health. Working conditions and job-related stress can negatively impact health, while unemployment and underemployment are also associated with adverse health outcomes (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2015).

It is known that high levels of unemployment at both a societal and neighbourhood level are associated with increased mortality and poor health outcomes (Wellesley Institute, 2010). To understand why this is, we must consider how productive employment can contribute to good health. Aside from wage earning related to socioeconomic status, paid work can also contribute to the identity of an individual, as well as provide opportunities for personal growth (PHAC, 2015). It is without doubt that it can also serve as a source of social contacts and support. When these benefits are taken away, negative effects on physical, mental, and social well-being can manifest.

For those employed, poor working conditions can have a major impact on health. Environmental hazards such as noise, air pollution, and exposure to toxic substances can undermine good health (World Health Organization, 2015). An obvious example of this is the high rates of lung cancer observed in asbestos miners (Doll, 1993). Personal protective equipment can mitigate exposures to some extent, but most jobs carry some degree of occupational risk.

A more subtle manifestation of how working conditions affect health is through stress. Job-related stress can cause and exacerbate mental illness, as well as contribute to physical ailments (PHAC, 2015). Stress is caused by excessive working demands, especially those that do not match the knowledge and skills of an employee. It is also related to how much control one has over his or her job circumstances (WHO, 2015).

Furthermore, employment outside the wage economy is especially important for women, who often spend many hours a week caring for children (and elderly parents) and maintaining the household (PHAC, 2015). In Canada, more women than ever are actively employed outside the home – but they still carry the higher burden of domestic activity. This can lead to increased stress and burnout, and lower job satisfaction.

Working conditions, job-related stress, and employment status are all important factors which contribute to one’s health status. High unemployment and economic instability in a society lead to mental and physical health problems for unemployed people and families. Thus, a strong job market with adequate protections for workers is in the best interest of both the economy and public health.

 

References

Doll, R. (1993). Mortality from lung cancer in asbestos workers. British Journal of Industrial Medicine, 50(6), 485-490.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2013). What makes Canadians healthy or  unhealthy? Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/phsp/determinants/determinants-eng.php

Wellesley Institute. (2010). Work and health: Exploring the impact of employment  on health disparities. Retrieved from            http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/ 2010/12/  Work_and_Health.pdf

World Health Organization. (2015). Occupational health: Physical risk factor and hazards. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/ occupational_health/topics/risks_physical/en/

World Health Organization. (2015). Occupational health: Stress at the workplace. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/ occupational_health/topics/stressatwp/en/

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Nicole Haywood

Associate editor for the IJHS. Bachelor of Health Sciences, class of 2014, University of Ottawa.

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