IT Employment

Four health-promoting job traits

Are certain jobs healthier than others? According to the experts, there are characteristics of a job that have been scientifically shown to produce big health benefits.

Are certain jobs healthier than others? According to the experts, there are characteristics of a job that have been scientifically shown to produce big health benefits.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Are some jobs healthier than others? Well, yes, and we're not just talking about extremes, like how a macrobiotic chef job might be healthier than, say, that of a matador or bomb defuser.

According to this piece by Maria Hanson on Yahoo HotJobs, there are certain characteristics of a job that have been scientifically shown to produce big health benefits. The characteristics are:

  1. Autonomy/Personal Control -- The more personal control people have in their lives, the less their chances of depression and heart disease and the better their health in general.
  2. Mentally Demanding -- If you use more brain power on your job, you're less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.
  3. Low Stress -- Research shows that stress can contribute to problems like heart disease, headaches, chronic pain, lowered immunity, and even obesity.
  4. Social -- Hanson says jobs that require social interaction can lower blood pressure, decrease heart disease, prevent depression, keep you cognitively fit, reduce stress, and increase lifespan.

This data made me wonder about what specific job characteristics could contribute to poor health. And it occurred to me that three out of the four examples above could, if experienced in the extreme, also be detrimental.

For example, if you have too much control, as in ownership of a company, you might be under extreme stress. I'm the type of person who perfers autonomy, but some people are very uncomfortable with that type of freedom.

Also, if a job is too mentally demanding, you could be so preoccupied with it that you neglect other activities that keep you healthy. Have you ever been so drained from thinking too much that you're "too tired" to exercise?

I understand that having some social aspect to a job is healthy, but I can also see how the nature of the people you have to interact with could alter your stress level for the bad. Can you say "Help Desk"?

What do you think? What job traits do you think are healthier or unhealthier than others?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

15 comments
JasonKB
JasonKB

If 1. Autonomy/Personal Control 2. Mentally Demanding 3. Low Stress 4. Social are good then their opposites would be: 1. Misalignment of circles of authority and responsibility, a la' Steven Covey. If you are responsible for areas of which you do not have the authority to change you can be in a position of excessive stress. 2. Misalignment of abilities and expectations. Mental demands are easy to deal with if you have the skills to perform the task. If you don't, this just leads to excessive negative stress. I'm not sure what IT job doesn't have a lot of mental demands. 3. Unrelenting stress. You have to have a break from time-to-time. Chronic stress has many health implications as outlined in the survey. I have found that a lot of stress come from a difference between reality and expectations. If you know you are going to have to deal with a difficult person and approach them expecting they will be unreasonable it is easier to contain your own reactions and defuse the situation. 4. Unsocial interaction. The counter to positive social interaction is having to deal with gossip. politics and backstabbing. I'm sure we have all been in the situation where some one will smile to your face then try to cover their lack of computer skills or missing a deadline because of their own poor planning on some vague computer problem that "they" couldn't fix. Case in point. I had to support a whole remote office that operated this way. They would refuse to report problems through the proper channels then would gripe and complain in meetings about poor service and fire-off a bi-monthly complaint letter to my boss about how they couldn't get proper service and needed their own dedicate support person. To cut the complaints and eliminate their primary issue we finally gave them the person they wanted and then all they could do was complain about the cost and how the guy wasn't busy enough to require a dedicated person. As I dug into it it further, I realized what they wanted was complete autonomy from head office and were using IT as scapegoat. They got their autonomy, they were outsourced a year later and only a hand full got to keep their jobs. The few that managed to stay were gone a year after that. Lost the battle but won the war on this one.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Autonomy - Within the constraints of contracted SLAs, I determine my work routine Mentally demanding - Oh, yes. Low Stress - I think so. I do have stressful periods, but for the most part, I don't fret about things that are out of my control. And even if I am stressed out, I can relax while driving to my next call. Social - Yep, desktop support has that. I'd call that perfect. B-)

patclem
patclem

Get some exercise, reduce stress, enjoy your ride home in the fresh air instead of your metal box (I mean your car.) Ride right past those traffic jams. And for all you Adult Attention Deficit Disorder folks, exercise will help you focus better at work.

klh456
klh456

If you can't ride your bike, get out and take a walk whenever possible. My day goes downhill fast if I have to miss my lunchtime walk.

andyjackson1
andyjackson1

Wow, if you're saying that calling the helpdesk is stressful, that's a slap in the face for anyone who works there. No matter how frustrating it is when you call, eveyone there works within the constraints of company policies and their managers guidelines. Help desk staff don't actually get to decide how many voice prompts you have to go through before they get to speak to you, nor how many calls per day they have to answer. If you're looking for an example of a role so stressful it can easily affect your health, the help desk is a place to start.

Jessie
Jessie

I do believe Toni was saying that working on the helpdesk is extreme social interaction, in that the social interaction you get while working on the helpdesk is highly stressful.

klh456
klh456

I took this the other way, working a HelpDesk and having to speak with so many different people, many of them cause stress. A good help desk technician realizes that the people are stressed when they call and will go out of their way to help defuse that stress whenever possible, even if only by being extra friendly and understanding on the phone. (I have worked the HelpDesk and there are certain names/extensions, that no one wants to pick up because we know the person on the other end is going to cause a great amount of stress, no matter what the issue.) But we also know that is part of the job and there are ways to deal with it in an appropriate manner (maybe letting it go to voicemail and then calling back when the exact problem is known, although this is frowned upon when answered calls is one of the metrics being measured). The HelpDesk can be an extremely stressful situation and not everyone can perform under this type of pressure.

Cassidie
Cassidie

I agree, this is a very high-stress job (as I have been doing it for so long). Callers expect immediate answers and problem resolution, which is not always possible in very mixed environments. In addition, launching new technology too quickly without thorough training and testing, results in unnecessary stress for both callers and help desk staff.

Mike Kunz
Mike Kunz

Not a bad article, but maybe a little simplistic; 1) Autonomy/Personal Control- Agree with the sentiments but to really give you the 'feel good factor' this needs to be devolved to your staff, have they got any degree of autonomy? Are they allowed to make decisions consistent with their authority/responsibility level? If the anwer is yes, you can sleep at night, providing you back them. 2) Mentally demanding, a great challenge, if the answer is no, you are not getting enough of point 1. Too much responsibility without authority, can leave you a nervous wreck, sleepless nights etc. 3) Low stress; I'm not 'Politically correct' in many areas, I actually believe that some stress is vital, providing you have an 'escape hatch', loved one's, friends et al. 4) Socialisation can be a great thing, good for team building, back against the wall time, and simply letting off steam, but it shouldn't rule your life, remember to allot time to those closest to you, first off, if not every day, at least every weekend, keep it balanced and it can be very productive, make too much of it and it robs you of your time/personality, and probably, does the same to your social circle. and that's all, folks. Mike K, Tasmania

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

If frustrating is a synonym for "mentally challenging," then put me down as one.

ls1313
ls1313

The autonomy thing is also true for social interaction. For me, a job with too much social interaction (e.g., constant meetings, frequent contact with vendors or the public, etc.) is exhausting and very stressful. I like social interaction, but I also like being able to go back to my little corner and work by myself for a while!

mike.codding
mike.codding

Balance is the key. Too much or too little of anything in life is harmful. Your challange is finding the right level of any factor. Your quantity (probably) will vary.

MikeGall
MikeGall

If you have a mentally demanding job, chances are that you have a lot of responsibility and the stress that goes with it. If you don't have a mentally demanding job, chances are you don't have independence.

lodestone
lodestone

. . .I would also add a 5th one: windows! Seriously, recent studies have been showing the importance of sunshine to good mental health. And since taking this job I've noticed a huge impact from that lack and others in my organization have commented on it too! --Allen

Editor's Picks