IPAR is a proud signatory to the Consensus Statement on the Health Benefits of Work.

‘At the heart of this consensus statement regarding the health benefits of work is a shared desire to improve the welfare of individuals, families and communities.’

The Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM) and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP)’s Realising the Health Benefits of Work Statement presents compelling international and Australasian evidence that work is generally good for health and wellbeing, and that long term work absence, work disability and unemployment generally have a negative impact on health and wellbeing.

The purpose of the consensus statement is to bring together a wide range of stakeholder signatories, who each affirm the importance of work as a determinant of health and commit to:

  • Promoting awareness of the health benefits of work;
  • Offering support and encouragement to those attempting to access the health benefits of work;
  • Encouraging employers’ continuing support of workers’ occupational health; and
  • Advocating for continuous improvement in public policy around work and health, in line with the principles articulated in the consensus statement.

The relationship between health and work

As a signatory to the Health Benefits of Work Consensus Statement IPAR acknowledges the following fundamental principles about the relationship between health and work:

  • Work is generally good for health and wellbeing;
  • Long term work absence, work disability and unemployment have a negative impact on health and wellbeing (this is true for both healthy people and those with an illness of injury);
  • Work must be safe so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • Work is an effective means of reducing poverty and social exclusion;
  • Work practices, workplace culture, work-life balance, injury management programs and relationship within workplaces are key determinates, not only of whether people feel valued and supported in their work roles, but also of individual health, wellbeing and productivity; and
  • Individuals seeking to enter the workforce for the first time, seeking reemployment or attempting to return to work after a period of injury or illness, face a complex situation with many variables. Good outcomes are more likely when individuals understand the health benefits of work and are empowered to take responsibility for their own situation.

Work is good for your physical and mental health

The evidence is compelling: for most individuals, working improves general health and wellbeing and reduces psychological distress. Even health problems that are frequently attributed to work — for example, musculoskeletal and mental health conditions — have been shown to benefit from activity‐based rehabilitation and an early return to suitable work. In most instances we do not have to recover completely before returning to work, provided there is a will and there are means to accommodate the fullest possible restoration of function; physically, mentally and socially.

Extended time off work often sees a worsening rather than an improvement in symptoms and conditions it is supposed to ameliorate. Moreover, the negative impacts of remaining away from work do not only affect the absent worker; families, including the children of parents out of work, suffer consequences including poorer physical and mental health, decreased educational opportunities and reduced long term employment prospects.

Returning to work is an effective treatment

Both internationally and within Australia and New Zealand, there is growing awareness that long‐term work absence, work disability and unemployment are harmful to physical and mental health and wellbeing. Work absence tends to perpetuate itself: that is, the longer someone is off work, the less likely they become ever to return.

The evidence demonstrates that:

  • Work is an important part of rehabilitation;
  • The longer someone is off work, the less chance they have of ever returning;
  • Most common health conditions will not be ‘cured’ by treatment;
  • Work is a therapeutic intervention, it is part of treatment;
  • Even when work is uncomfortable or difficult, it usually does not cause lasting damage;
  • Typically, waiting for recovery delays recovery;
  • Staying away from work may lead to depression, isolation and poorer health; and
  • Employer-supported, early return to work helps recovery, prevents de-conditioning and helps provide patients with appropriate social contacts and support mechanisms.

The benefits of working outweigh the risks

A recent research review from the United Kingdom that posed the question, ‘Is work good for your health and well‐being?’, concludes that overall, the beneficial effects of work outweigh the risks. In addition, the review’s authors — Professor Gordon Waddell and Professor Kim Burton — show that the health benefits of work are much greater than the harmful effects of long term unemployment or prolonged sickness absence.

The evidence shows that work may benefit an individual by:

  • Ensuring that some physical activity is undertaken on work days;
  • Providing a sense of community and social inclusion;
  • Allowing workers to feel that they are making a contribution to society and their family;
  • Giving structure to days and weeks;
  • Financial security; and
  • A decreased likelihood that individuals will engage in risky behaviours.

References:

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Position Statement on Realising the Health Benefits Work, Sydney 2011.    

Waddell G, Burton A. Is work good for your health and well‐being? London, UK: The Stationery Office; 2006.