Stress or satisfaction:
Is work good
for your health?


Work can have a strong effect on mental and physical wellbeing. For employers, it’s important to know how to support their workforce.

Employee benefits offer support during illness and incapacity – and a large part of their focus is around helping get people back to work.

But a vital point for all employers to consider is the rate of that return to work. Work has a strong impact on people’s wellbeing – both mentally and physically – so absence from and return to a job needs to be managed carefully.

Or, on a broader point, is work good for you?

The last in-depth look into the matter was back in 2006, when the Department for Work and Pensions commissioned an independent study Is Work Good for your Health and Well-being?

The conclusion found “strong evidence showing that work is generally good for physical and mental health and well-being.” Conversely, there was a “strong association” between being out of work and poor health1. There can be an element of chicken and egg about this – a person is out of work because they’re unwell, or vice versa – but the report maintains there is strong evidence that unemployment is generally harmful to health.

Central to this is the effect of work on mental health.

Work and mental health

The study touched on numerous factors in which work can be beneficial for mental health, such as:

  • Employment is generally the most important way of obtaining money –essential for material wellbeing and participation in society
  • Work meets psychosocial needs in a society where employment is the norm
  • Work is central to individual identity, social roles and social status

In essence, work helps provide a sense of wellbeing that makes a person feel they belong.

Unum’s latest Return to Work statement makes for interesting reading. here. Of those helped back to work by Unum’s Group Income Protection coverage (rehabilitation service), the number one reason for absence (38%) was mental ill health2.

The mental health charity MIND agrees that work can be beneficial for mental health, highlighting the steady routine provided by work and opportunities to gain achievements3.

But the other side of the coin is where work can negatively affect mental health. 70 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to mental health problems4.

And there are physical manifestations too. Researchers at University College London looked at 85,000 workers – mainly middle-aged men and women – and found clear correlation between overwork and cardiovascular problems, in particular irregular heartbeat or atrial fibrillation. That increases the chance of a stroke fivefold5.

Is stress good for you?

So overwork, or working when you’re not 100% capable, can cause ill health? In fact, there are some studies out there that contradict this message.

A 2016 report suggested that a stressful job could actually be good for your health. The study tracked thousands of workers in their sixties for seven years – starting in 2004. It found that workers in stressful jobs were a third less likely to die than those with easier roles6.

However, the caveat of the findings was that the effects were only positive if the worker felt in control of their own workflow.

Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, the author of the study, said: “These findings suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making.”


Last year, a government-commissioned report looked at the modern workplace entitled Good work: the Taylor review of modern working practices. Its publication prompted Duncan Selbie, chief executive at Public Health England, to state: “Having a job is good for our health, but the quality of our jobs makes the difference.”

“Ensuring people have a safe, encouraging and supportive working environment will help keep them well and in work for longer. This is something that all employers can and should take steps to achieve7.”

One such way to achieve this – and to give employees a sense of control over their condition – is through careful management of the return to work after illness or injury. A truly supportive employer can demonstrate they want the best for their staff by providing employee benefits such as Group Income Protection that offer ongoing rehabilitation support.



Department for Work and Pensions. (2006). Is Work Good for your Health and Well-being?
Unum. (2018). Group Income Protection Return to Work Statement
MIND. (2016). How to be mentally healthy at work
Mental Health Foundation. (2018). Mental health in the workplace

The Guardian. (2018). Do you work more than 39 hours a week?
The Telegraph. (2016). A stressful job could actually be good for your health, experts say
The Health Foundation. (2018). How is work good for our health?



This article has been written in collaboration with Unum, one of Elect’s insurance providers. It is for information only and is not specific advice. It is based on our current understanding of the attributed research which may change in the future.