The mood-boosting benefits of work

13 Nov 2023
Health Educators Ruth Martinez and Molly-May Walter need no convincing that work is beneficial for people. They see it every day as part of the Ingeus team of health professionals, helping people back into employment as part of the Work and Health Programme.

Cold winter mornings, rising cost of living, climate change, global conflicts, fuel costs on the increase . . . it’s no wonder we might need some sort of pickup to get us through the day.

On your list of mood boosters may not be this one though: work!

The evidence is clear however – work is good for you. Good for your physical and mental health, your self-esteem, your social life, not to mention your financial stability. Yet the benefits of having a job go way beyond the effect on you as an individual.

What’s good for business is good for UK plc too, as the country struggles to shake off the yoke of high prices and low output.

That’s particularly relevant in the light of our new report that shows one in five of the working-age population in the UK has a disability or long-term health condition.

Only slightly more than half of that number, equating to 4.9 million people, are in employment.

It’s a statistic that echoes the experience of Ingeus’ Central London Works (CLW) team, which supports people with disabilities, health conditions and long-term unemployment to find work. Almost half of the participants joining its Work and Health Programme report a health problem.

The CLW team offers support including mental and physical health practitioners as well as health educators such as Ruth and Molly-May. Both are in no doubt that having the right job is good for you.

Molly-May says: “We regard work as having biological, psychological and social benefits.

“Biologically because when you go to work you are moving more, you are planning your meals, you may sleep better because you know you’ve got to get up for work rather than staying up all night. You keep learning, too, which is a significant psychological benefit,

“It’s also social: if you’re not working you might speak to nobody other than the people in your house for days. I think people don’t realise how much just talking affects wellbeing. It’s a human need to interact.”

Ruth says: “When you receive benefits you are not in control of your own situation, but with work people get their independence back.

“Another major benefit is that structure comes back into your life, which a lot of our participants lose over long periods of unemployment.”

The largest category of people referred to the team by Ingeus’s employability caseworkers is those with musculoskeletal problems, such as back pain and arthritis.

However, the pair say the line between physical and mental conditions is a blurred one.

Molly-May: “When people with a physical condition can’t get access to appointments or hospital treatment, the frustration means it becomes a mental health problem. 

“Even what we might consider small inconveniences, like trains not running or roadworks meaning you have to walk further, seem stressful if you have a long-term condition.”

The good news is that through Ingeus’ employment programmes, like CLW, there is help – and plenty of it.

The health educators run workshops with topics such as nutrition, stress management, sleep, the benefits of exercise, and confidence building.

Partner organisations offer courses to manage anxiety, depression and pain.

Ruth says: “We can refer people to get six weeks of counselling – that’s quite amazing when you consider how long you might have to wait for an NHS counselling appointment.

“It’s a fabulous opportunity for people – there is a lot of support and it’s all free.”

Does work make Ruth and Molly-May happy?

Molly-May says: “When you see the news about cuts in spending and the number of people in poverty it does make me feel good that we are helping people, that we can move them along on their journey to better lives.”

Ruth recalls: “A lady we are currently helping is in danger of losing her home – she had a mortgage but after a breakdown had fallen into arrears. 

“When she came into one of our sessions she was anxious and in a terrible place. We have given her a lot of support and continue to do so, and as a result I know she will go back to work and start to rebuild herself. It’s a good feeling.

“Then she will start to enjoy the benefits that work brings.”

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