Having a meaningful job makes us happier and healthier – but governments and employers should eschew the logic that workers who work less are less productive
“NOTHING is really work unless you would rather be doing something else,” the writer J. M. Barrie once said. As the festive season fast recedes and the realities of work loom large in the new year, the strategy of Barrie’s most famous creation, Peter Pan, to avoid earning a daily crust – staying an eternal kid – may look oh-so tempting.
We should avoid Neverland’s siren call. Having a meaningful job that gives you a sense of agency and purpose is associated with improved health outcomes from lower rates of depression and dementia to a longer overall lifespan. An academic report commissioned by the UK government in 2006 concluded that the overall benefits of work to our mental and physical health outweigh its negatives, and far exceed the damage caused by being unwillingly unemployed.
Make your work work better for you – from dealing with pesky colleagues to taking the perfect break and doing less for more money
If you aren’t your own boss, you may feel you can’t guarantee agency and purpose at work, let alone get rid of the niggles of most working environments, from the anti-Goldilocks office thermostat that is always too hot or too cold, but never just right, or the colleague you simply can’t abide.
But as our science-based guide to making the most of work shows (“How to win at work, from getting that pay rise to busting stress”), there are things we can all do to be happier, healthier and more productive at work, from making the most of our breaks to optimally arranging our desks to effectively managing our relationships with others.
Employers and governments should take note too: a golden thread running through the emerging science of work says that less is more. Cold market logic may dictate trying to squeeze ever more out of workers. The evidence suggests that, in the long run, long hours and high pressure at work don’t increase productivity, but depress it. Work works – but only if we make it work for us.
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