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How healthy is your working environment?

Published : Friday September 14, 2012 | Posted in : General Health

Last week on this blog I lamented the lessening lengths of our lunch breaks, after an article from the BBC magazine suggested that hour-long breaks should become mandatory. This week, yet more worrying work-based woes have been uncovered, with new research confirming that work-based stress can place a significant strain on the heart, risking heart attacks and even death.

The general response to this research was perhaps best summed up with a tweet this afternoon from Dr Christian Jessen, best known for being the face of Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies:

Dr Christian Jessen tweet” title=

It’s true that most people will be all too aware that a high-stress job is not good for the heart, and the less-than-surprised reactions to the Lancet’s new report are understandable. However, is this resignation to the inevitability of illness caused by work-related stress a good thing? Surely research that demonstrates the damage that can be done by work-related stress should be met with concern, not flippancy. The fact that we’ve heard these warnings before does not mean they should be so easily dismissed.

Seeing this news story this morning and then following the less than impressed reaction on sites like Twitter made me think of last week’s lunch break debate, and how those defending the five-minute-sandwich in lieu of a proper break did so. The justification was in its simplest terms the fact that work is important; far more important than the health benefits of an hour’s worth of fresh air and relaxation.

This kind of nonchalant attitude towards the relationship between our work and our health is demonstrated even more clearly in the muted response to the Lancet’s report. Why aren’t people surprised or concerned? Surely a piece of news showing the dangers of stress in the workplace should elicit discussions about how to reduce stress in the workplace and improve the working environment. Instead, this valuable research is dismissed as stating the obvious. Something so obvious, it does not even need to be addressed.

In their reporting of this new report, which comprised an analysis of 13 studies already undertaken in Europe on almost 200,000 people in total, BBC news quoted Dr Bo Netterstrom, from Bispebjerg Hospital in Denmark. Speaking about job strain, Dr Netterstrom said that this was “a measure of only part of a psychosocially damaging work environment”.

Why do we think it is acceptable to be working in environments that are “psychosocially damaging”? The work-life balance should be just that – a balance. This means that it should be complete with adequate lunch breaks, a manageable workload and regular holidays. But is this just a pipe dream?

Be sure to let us know what you think of this new research or the feasibility of a healthy work-life balance in the comments.

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