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Work-Life Balance: Health Consequences - Executive Leadership Articles

Work-Life Balance: Health Consequences

Executive Leadership Articles

Work-Life Balance: Health Consequences

Most of our conversation about work-life balance revolves around our senses of personal fulfillment and satisfaction: how we feel about all the aspects of our lives and how we’re managing them. These are important considerations, yet just as important are the physical and mental consequences, some of which are obvious and some which may be sneaky and serious. If somehow you’ve powered through your professional and personal lives by sheer force of ambition and coffee, this is something admirable and not to be discounted. Still, you may find it in your best interest to consider what it’s doing to your body and mind.

The big health factors are related to stress. Occupational stress can lead to high blood pressure and increased risks for heart attack and other cardiovascular issues. These are the obvious consequences, but work-related stress also increases risks for back and upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders. Sleep disorders, headaches, mood disorders, upset stomach, high cholesterol, autoimmune disease, depression, and anxiety are among other risks.

Stress itself can affect sleep, but so can busy-ness and being too connected to our phones and other devices. Screens emit blue light, which inhibits melatonin secretion. Melatonin is a hormone regulating sleep, and while there are questions about how an increased exposure at night to light in general (including office lights for people working graveyard shifts) affects our health over the long term, cautions abound about the blue light from our phones. Some experts recommend not looking at a phone screen or computer screen for two or three hours before retiring to bed. If you’re the sort to get up in the middle of the night, perhaps to use the bathroom, resist the temptation to check your phone, and you may find it easier to get back to sleep.

An interesting study in Finland surveyed businessmen in 1974 for the number of hours they worked per week and the number of hours they slept per week. In 2000, the same men were surveyed with questions related to their health. Participants fit into four categories: normal work and normal sleep, long work and normal sleep, normal work and short sleep, and long work and short sleep. Men with longer work hours and shorter sleep hours twenty-six years before had lower scores for physical functioning, vitality, and general health in 2000, and those with long work and normal sleep had poorer scores for physical functioning in old age. Even smoking and other non-related health risks were factored out, the correlation between too much work, not enough sleep, and worse health in old age remained.

These examples of bad health consequences for poor work-life balance are really a surface-level look at what is clearly a deeper issue for us all, whether we accept it or not. Even if you don’t have a family or other personal obligation to consider, consider the health of your future self. He or she will thank the you of today!

Reference links:
Blue light: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
Health study: https://academic.oup.com/ageing/article/46/1/108/2605686


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