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 Work Well 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Simply Well by . View all columns in series
This poet’s words come from an earlier time when people’s work more directly supported their survival—they grew their own food and built their own homes with tools of their own fabrication. The principle applies no matter how you earn your living. There is an inherent value in doing work that keeps us all alive and well. In this sense there is no job that is ignoble.

But people tend to lose sight of the value of their work, getting so caught up in the details that they forget what they are doing or why they are doing it. Complaints are rife: too much pressure, too boring, the boss is impossible. Whatever the problem, the outcome is the same—job dissatisfaction leading to complete burnout and the feeling that you can’t face another day on the job.

Most people spend a third or more of their lives in the workplace. It is very important, then, that work fully supports our wellbeing—physically, emotionally, relationally, intellectually, and spiritually. Your body can put up with abuse in the short run, but over years those abuses will take their toll.

A Few Steps toward Healthier Work
There are many ways to practice initiative and self-responsibility in the workplace without having to quit your job. You can make changes in your relationship to your job so it will satisfy you more deeply.

First, assess your relationship to your job in the light of the factors below.

  • You like what you do even if you don’t like all of the details of your job. Your job provides you with the opportunity to take on tasks, accomplish them, and feel good about yourself and about what you have created or produced.
  • You have a sense of purpose in what you do. In other words, you have made the job important by the way in which you define or view it. You appreciate yourself for working to support yourself and your family, even if your job is not ideal.
  • You can distinguish between the job you do and who you are. You know that even if you don’t accomplish all you set out to accomplish, or fail outright, or are unable to work or are unemployed, you are still a worthwhile human being.
  • You spend time cultivating other interests and other aspects of yourself that your job doesn’t include. You continue to learn, stretch, grow, and, especially, take small risks as ways to keep yourself flexible in body, mind, and soul.
  • You practice self-responsibility, safety, stress reduction, and honest communication as much as possible. You stand up as a person of clear integrity within your work environment.
  • You feel good when you get up in the morning to go to work. You experience general good health and rarely find it necessary to take a sick leave to cope with your job.
  • Your spouse and children appreciate and encourage your work. Your work allows you to spend quality time with your family.
Tell yourself the truth about your job and how it supports your wellbeing. Take a good long look at your job situation and the physical conditions in which you work. Make it a thorough look.

Imagine that you are a journalist doing a story on the healthiness of your workplace. Make a list of things that could be improved. Even though you may feel sure many things cannot be changed, list them anyway. Here are a few things to consider:

  • sufficiency and type of lighting
  • the quality of the air that circulates in your workplace
  • access to the natural environment (Do you have a window in your area; can plants grow there?)
  • the colors on the walls
  • noise levels—of machinery or other workers
  • telephone interruptions
  • traffic patterns in your space
  • the design and placement of furniture
Review your list and ask yourself whether these things serve your work and help you to work more efficiently and pleasantly, or if they undermine your health and your work.
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 About The Author
John W. Travis, MD, MPH, is the creator of the Wellness Inventory and its parent, the Wellness Index. He is the founder and co-director of ...moreJohn Travis MD, MPH
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