Most people spend the majority of their waking hours at work, thinking about work, community to and from work, and otherwise engulfed in jobs and building their career. Numerous studies have shown that our health doesn’t just affect work, but work also affects our health. From a lack of natural sunlight in the office to the increased accounts of carpal tunnel syndrome in workers in all industries, there’s no denying the link between work and health.

However, “health” doesn’t just refer to the physical. Of course, when you work closely with your colleagues (literally) and many American employers don’t offer or encourage paid sick leave, it’s easy to pick up a bug from your co-workers. In 2018, it’s estimated that one of the worst flu seasons in years is arriving, and many people will get the flu from work. However, there are also mental, emotional, social, and even spiritual health elements tied to work.

Recent research has shown what many people have suspected for years: Some people have an “addictive gene” (though it’s not really a gene) that makes them more susceptible to substance abuse, which is linked closely to depression. A person’s job can be a trigger for drug abuse or alcohol abuse, particularly when a person depends on substances to help manage stress and high demands. Although a job can’t cause substance abuse, it can be a contributing factor—particularly since a lot of people don’t know or practice healthy stress management techniques. Some industries, such as working in a bar, also offer easy access to addictive substances.

Work Environment Factors That Affect a Person’s Health

Where a person works can be just as important as the kind of work they do. Studies have shown that offices with living plants lead to happier employees who take fewer sick days. This is partially because of the improved air quality that comes with living plants, but also the soothing factor that happens when a person is surrounded by living things.

Natural sunlight is critical for human beings, particularly in the winter months. When that’s not possible, taking advantage of required regular breaks and getting outside is the next best thing. Breathing fresh air, increasing the heart rate with a quick walk around the block, and separating from the workplace is critical to all aspects of health.

High-stress jobs can come in many forms and can be caused by bosses and/or co-workers just as much as the work itself. Many people have experienced “toxic people” in their lives, and when it’s in a work setting, there’s little that can be done to avoid it. For someone who’s forced to deal with a toxic person, particularly a boss, this can be detrimental to all aspects of health. It’s part of the work environment that can’t be changed (without changing jobs), but there are ways to manage it. Working with a therapist to help pinpoint effective stress management techniques, communication techniques, and sometimes keeping proper records of what may be inappropriate behavior are all important. This can help preserve a person’s mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

The Real Side Effects of a Job

As how a person works changes (i.e., virtual offices, telecommuting, and being “on the clock” around the clock) so do the health-based side effects. Workers’ compensation insurance was designed to protect workers who get hurt on the job, but “on the job” is changing. Many people are surprised by what exactly workers’ compensation can cover, and it’s also indicative of just how dangerous some jobs can be. For instance, carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common claims, and it can be caused by repetitive movement or blunt trauma. It happens when a nerve in the wrist is pinched or has too much pressure, and is often found in workers who use their hands frequently or office workers with a poor ergonomic setup for typing.

Slips and falls are another common injury, as is falling downstairs or an injury from lifting something heavy overhead. However, more and more people are traveling for work or have a virtual arrangement where they work odd hours and days. This has led to an increase in workers’ compensation claims, but this is also because more people are being educated on what “getting hurt on the job” entails.

Sometimes an injury is chronic and caused by years of repeated movements. Almost every job carries a risk of injury. Practicing good posture, ergonomics, following the safety standards, and prioritizing health are foundational for a safe workspace. However, so is knowing the workers’ compensation best practices and laws. It’s always in a person’s best interest to submit a claim when they get treatment and to get treatment early.

For some workers, being able to telecommute and work from home helps keep them happier and healthier. There’s flexibility so they can work during their most productive hours and make time for personal appointments. However, there’s also a downside. Some workers feel compelled to be on call for their companies or bosses. They’re answering emails at 3 a.m. and forgot what a weekend really feels like.

Compartmentalization is critical, as is setting boundaries with bosses and clients. It’s easy to fall into the trap of working 24/7, which comes with a host of health risks. Insomnia, depression, anxiety, and reaching for dangerous ways to cope can all be associated with today’s virtual work environment. Putting health first takes commitment, practice, and some trial and error.