Balancing Work and Life: Occupational Wellness
Author: Amber Letcher, Assistant Professor, SDSU College of Education and Human Sciences
The average employee in the U.S. will spend one fifth of their time each year in the workforce. Those employed full time will devote nearly a quarter of their time on the job. Given the significant amount of time individuals commit to their careers, it is important to focus on the quality of their occupational experience. Occupational wellness refers to the sense of satisfaction and purpose a person receives from their work. More specifically, occupational wellness includes having balance between work and other life demands, a manageable workload, positive relationships with colleagues, opportunities to learn new skills, and the ability to provide input into the vision and goals of the organization or business.
There are numerous strategies both employers and employees can use to improve occupational wellness. For employers, creating a sense of ownership in the organization can promote employee satisfaction. Ownership opportunities may be more literal (e.g., stock options), but another option is involving employees in leadership decisions. For example, South Dakota State University is currently updating their strategic plan. Throughout this process, faculty and staff are asked to provide input either through anonymous written feedback or face to face meetings. Another way to promote occupational health involves family-friendly policies such as paid maternity/paternity leave, flexible schedules, on-site child care, tuition/fee reimbursements for trainings or education, and employer-sponsored social events.
At the individual level, employees who feel their work has meaning report the most satisfaction. Finding this purpose may sound overwhelming at first, but meaningful impact can take a variety of forms. For example, serving as a mentor for a new employee or creating a new system that makes a process flow more efficiently should both be recognized as valuable contributions. Additionally, occupational wellness is associated with positive relationships among colleagues. Researchers consistently find a connection between a friendly workplace culture and employee engagement in their work. When individuals form friendships at work, they are more likely to experience kindness, respect, and support; each of which makes the work environment more enjoyable. Some ideas for cultivating relationships include eating lunch with co-workers, holiday parties, or team-based competitions such as physical activity challenges.
Investing in your occupational health is not only beneficial in the workplace, but it is also related to other aspects of wellness including social, intellectual, and emotional health. Thus, a minor adjustment to your work life may have a major impact on your overall health.