“Work to live, don’t live to work.” “That Friday feeling.” “The Monday morning blues.”
These cliches aren’t exactly indicative of a society that values the workplace. We live in a world where work is often seen, at best, as a necessary evil, something that has to be endured between going on holiday or just doing stuff we actually enjoy (like going to the pub with friends).
But the reality of life doesn’t really stack up with this. First of all, our leisure time isn’t a constant round of excitement and parties – there’s always laundry to be done, or gutters to clean – and even when we do have proper free time, sometimes it’s all we can do to flop in front of Netflix and eat biscuits. But secondly, a lot of people – shock, horror – actually enjoy their work.
Amidst all of the discussion about the travails of hybrid working, and the dangers of burnout, it’s easy to forget that work can be a huge benefit to people’s lives. In fact, more than that – it can be a crucial pillar of security and stability.
Indeed, according to the Mental Health Foundation, “being in work is important for everyone’s general health and well-being: it gives us a purpose (and an income), promotes independence, allows us to develop social contacts, and is a factor in preventing both physical and mental health problems.”
We get a lot from work. Alice Boyes PhD, writing in Psychology Today, points out that it is a fertile environment for social bonding. “Work can provide built-in friendships… Your work colleagues might feel like your tribe in a way most other people don't.” She goes on to argue that it gives employees a sense of self-worth, intellectual fulfilment, allows workers to earn money to enjoy their hobbies, and encourages people to develop new skills and expand their horizons.
When the going gets tough…
But Boyes goes even further, suggesting that having a job can be of particular benefit to people when the going gets particularly tough. “If your work is stable, and you're good at it, it can help you stay even-keeled when other things in your life are stressful (e.g., you're caring for a sick relative, going through infertility, or recovering from a breakup). Sometimes people don't fully appreciate this benefit until they hit a rocky point in life… If you're prone to depression, work can give you an opportunity just to execute something you're good at, which can help bolster and stabilise your mood.”
Increasingly, research suggests that being happy in one’s work is a key component in one’s mental health and overall contentment. An article published by Frontiers says: “Job satisfaction is a key construct in industrial and organisational psychology, and has been associated with multiple desirable outcomes such as job performance, organisational citizenship behaviour, absenteeism, and life satisfaction.”
Not the problem, but the solution
All of this seems to fly in the face of the fallacy of work as a necessary evil. The truth is, work has the potential to be a force for good, something that, far from exhausting and stressing us all, and causing us to burn out, can be really good for us.
Indeed, far from necessarily being the cause of mental health issues, it seems that work could be part of the solution! The Mental Health Foundation is keen to emphasise this point: “For those with mental health problems, being employed can be an important step to recovery, improving self-esteem and confidence and reducing psychological distress… Employment is therefore vital for maintaining good mental health and promoting recovery from mental health problems.”
Work, it seems, comes with manifold psychological benefits, and can help people navigate periods of poor mental health. This is crucial now more than ever. NHS England recently announced that it expects up to 10 million people in the UK will need mental health support in the coming years as a result of the pandemic. Factor in the burgeoning cost-of-living crisis and the potential for recession, and the need becomes all the more acute.
The right environment matters
But this reframing of work as a mental health boon doesn’t mean that employers can pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Indeed, it suggests that instilling a positive workplace culture, and looking after employees, is of even greater significance than previously thought. Just as a good workplace environment has the capacity to help people deal with life’s challenges, so a negative environment can exacerbate problems, as mental health publication Very Well Mind points out:
“Work, in any form, has a significant effect on our emotional and psychological well-being for better or for worse—in particular, the quality and psychological health of the workplace environment. As research is increasingly showing, a negative work environment can lead to a number of physical and mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. The quality of our work environment, in any industry, has a significant impact on our emotional, psychological, and physical well-being. As is the case with any harmful condition, the best intervention is prevention. For organisational leaders, paying attention to creating psychologically healthy work environments is not only crucial to the health of the company but, more importantly, to its people.”
Increasingly, responsible, forward-thinking employers are turning to inclusive wellbeing resources like BuddyBoost which focus on mass engagement. BuddyBoost has a growing range of programmes where participants commit to doing something that’s good for them for at least 26 days in a month. Participants rate their mood after doing their minutes, and the data from around 250,000 activities logged on the app shows that, on average, people get a 25% mood boost from the programme.
Employees form into groups of buddies in the BuddyBoost app to help and motivate one another to complete their challenges. Everyone taking part in a BuddyBoost challenge stays in touch via their own private buddy groups and on their company’s private community feed, posting messages and photos, boosting engagement and a sense of camaraderie. It really works!
The social network
Employees benefit both from the immediate mood boost from the exercise, but also gain the longer-term benefits that come from the warmly supportive environment of the community feed, that helps build social bonds. According to Joe Flanagan, senior employment advisor at VelvetJobs, this aspect of social interaction is key.
"The identity that we derive from our work is one of the biggest factors that influences our sense of skills, worth, and success. A major part of this identity consists of the co-workers and colleagues, who are not only like-minded individuals on a similar journey as ours, but also the community that sometimes gets more of our time than our families and friends. [Co-workers] play a big role in reaffirming our sense of value, appreciating our work, and supporting us to grow professionally."
We are living in tumultuous times, even if the tumult is, hopefully, beginning to subside somewhat. But the effects of the upheaval of the last couple of years will continue to be felt for some time to come. Work can either be part of the problem, or part of the solution. In helping to provide security, stability and social interaction, responsible employers can do their bit not just for their company, but for the lives of their workers away from the workplace too. Everybody wins.
To find out more about BuddyBoost and how we can help you improve the wellbeing of your team, please get in touch.