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Your Job Is Killing You (Here's How to Change That)

Working in an office seems like one of the safer career choices you can make. Unlike medical professionals, you don't have to worry about your mistakes costing lives; unlike, say, firefighters or military personnel, you don't have to be concerned about danger to your own life or limb. Or do you?

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(Photo Credit: Financial Times Photos/Flickr)

As Tom Gardner, CEO of The Motley Fool, points out in his recent LinkedIn post, your job doesn't have to be seriously dangerous in order to injure your health over time. In fact, he says, that's one reason why many talented young graduates are trying to chart a career path that doesn't force them into a typical 9-to-5 office situation:

"Because they know that if they work in your environment, within 10 years, they'll be overweight, pre-diabetic, worn down by repetitive tasks, with burned-out adrenals. They'll function at declining rates, finding it troublingly difficult to break the habits they've formed in your office."

The Health Risks of Doing Nothing, While Stressing Out About Everything

Picture a typical day at the office. If you're like most knowledge workers, you're sitting down, engaging in a number of small movement tasks -- sending emails, talking to a teammate, maybe answering the odd phone call. In other words, nothing you're doing counts as a work out, and the movements you do make either encourage bad posture or put you at risk for repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Then there's the issue of stress. Although the odds are that no one's lives are at stake because of anything we do during the day, you'd never know it from how we -- and our supervisors -- behave. Even if the company doesn't stand to lose a dollar, we've grown to treat every deadline as a potential disaster.

Why? Two reasons, primarily: economic instability and technological advancement. In short, our employers can squeeze us for every drop of labor, because we're scared to set boundaries and leave ourselves open to a layoff, and our various smartphones, tablets, and other assorted mobile devices make it possible to work 24/7.

Add all of this up, and you have a recipe for disaster, health-wise.

So What Can We Do About It?

Unless you're upper management, you probably can't change your corporate culture. But there are a few things that are within your power to change that can make your work life better and improve your health over the long run, including:

1. Say no when you can.

We all know that it's important to set boundaries, but if you're still having problems saying no when you should, look at it this way: if you give 100 percent of your time and energy as a matter of course, you'll have nothing extra to give during times when the pressure is on.

This is an inside thought, by the way. Your manager will not be as sympathetic to this reasoning for saying no. She will be more inclined to think positively of you, however, if you're not burned out. Better to do a little less with more enthusiasm, if your goal is to be thought of as a team player.

2. Move more.

Whether you get a standing desk, a treadmill desk, or have your meetings walking, the idea is the same: sit less, move more. Being sedentary is associated with all kinds of health risks, from increased incidence of heart disease and diabetes to depression.

3. Eat better every day.

One of the side effects of sitting too much is weight gain, and in our "everything right now" culture, the usual solution to the problem of a few extra pounds is a crash diet -- which, of course, comes with its own set of health risks, as well as not really working all that well, in the bargain.

Instead of binging on the office candy supply and doing penance with dubious juice cleanses, concentrate on eating healthier food on a day-to-day basis. Think more like you're planning a nutritious diet for a beloved family member whose health you care about, and less like you're punishing yourself for finishing off the plate of brownies that your compulsive baker co-worker keeps leaving around.

Be prepared. Bring snacks with you from home, instead of relying on the vending machine. A little extra time in the morning before you head into work can mean the difference between eating well and grazing on junk food all day.

Tell Us What You Think

How do you offset the health risks of working in an office? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

3 Comments

  1. 3 Byron Warnken 21 Jun

    As a workers' compensation lawyer, I genuinely wonder whether things like diabetes, early heart attacks, even obesity itself for people chained to desks from nine to five will be compensable under workers' comp.  

    The office is the new factory, complete with hazardous working conditions.  

    For instance, in Maryland, police officers are presumed to have gotten hypertension on the job as the job is, of course, high stress.  In the vast majority of professions, the presumptions go the other way.  Perhaps this is wrong.  With a boss breathing down your neck hanging your job over your head if you don't get the presentation finished, stress is a part of many jobs.  Now imagine the same for 35 years straight.

    Changing the way we work can't come soon enough.

  2. 2 NetScanr NetScanr 19 Jun
    I'm 50 & retired USAF of 20 years.  I recently quit a decent-paying job because of their outlandish work requirements.  I'd work all day, then during the drive home I'd receive e-mails with more tasks expected to be completed ASAP.  Weekends & holidays yielded more e-mails.  In over 18 months, I worked through most holidays & most weekends.  Then there was 24/7/365 phone monitoring required.  Employer's expectations are out of control!  My new position pays 15% more, I work from home and OT will cost them 1.5x pay (hence, no OT).
  3. 1 Andrei Rînea 09 Jun

    Pretty good sum up. Don't forget to sit properly at the desk and do periodic eye-de-strain exercises.

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