Everyone knows that if you have to go to work every day to do a job you hate – or are coming very close to hating most days – it makes your life in general pretty miserable. Even toiling away at a job that is tolerable but in no way exciting, challenging or taps into your real talents can be rather soul sucking. But did you know that the effects of dealing with a job you don’t love can really be bad for your physical and mental health, and that conversely doing a job you love can be a real health booster?
The Karoshi Effect
Most of us don’t realise how badly a bad job can affect our physical health. The Japanese do though, and they even have a name for it; Karoshi. Karoshi – which roughly translates as ‘death by overwork’ has been an acknowledged health condition in Japan since 1969. It is considered to primarily affect relatively young, otherwise healthy people who are working overly hard in a job they do not enjoy or find particularly stressful.
Karoshi is not a disease, according to the Japanese researchers who study it. It’s a combination of, these experts believe, stress-induced physiological changes that usually lead to sudden heart attack or stroke. This is most likely caused by numerous triggerings of the “fight-or-flight” stress response that activates the sympathetic nervous system, raises blood pressure and heart rate, and puts undue stress on the cardiovascular system. According to current government figures more than 10,000 cases of karoshi occur each year but it’s something they are now actively seeking to prevent.
Change Your Job, Save Your Life?
Karoshi is not something that only affects the Japanese, they are simply the only ones to formally recognise it as a work-related condition to be taken seriously. Many South Africans could potentially be included too, especially as research has shown they share a lot in common with the documented Japanese Karoshi cases.
For example, Karoshi researchers attribute it in large part to working too many hours, going to work when ill and failing to take proper holidays. A recent global Bloomberg study found that that one in five South Africans go to work, even though they are ill or injured and more than half of South Africans do not take their annual leave. And yet more than half also reported being ‘dissatisfied’ in the job they devote so much time to.
So, if you like your job, do things get better? Science says yes. In another global study, this one conducted by Reuters, among the 12,000 participants, all aged between 29 and 60 and studied for nine years, those who reported they were happy in their work had a 21% lower risk of death from all causes, and they were 32% less likely to die of a heart attack. In addition, the burned out, disenchanted employees studied developed heart disease at a 79% higher rate than the happy employees.
How to Be Happier at Work
At this point, there is an obvious correlation between job satisfaction and health, but, very few people can just walk away from a job they dislike on a whim, as they have real life responsibility to take care of that don’t allow them to. But there are some things you can do to make your current job more palatable, and therefore, better for your health.
You should actively manage stress, in whatever way works for you. Take a walk at lunchtime, learn to say no to coworkers – and bosses – when their requests become too much. Take your breaks, your sick days and your holidays and set aside some time every week to research, and work towards, finding a job that IS right for you.