A healthy job is about more than just avoiding hazards, like dangerous material and machines.
Employees need respect, benefits, wellness incentives, and control over their work, says L. Casey Chosewood, MD, senior medical officer for the Total Worker Health program at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “What matters equally is the quality of life away from work, and how we can protect and grow that.”
Every job and employer is different, but there are ways to make any job healthier. Try borrowing strategies from our list of the best, then read on for the worst.
It makes sense that careers that require exercise would be among the healthiest. Monster.com’s list of 10 healthy professions, for example, includes yoga instructor, choreographer, running coach, and personal trainer.
These jobs offer positive interactions with others, creativity, and flexibility with your schedule, says Monster.com career and finance expert, Dona DeZube. But you may not have health insurance. “Usually, unless you own a studio or are a full-time employee somewhere, you’re not going to be getting benefits,” she says. “You’ll have to pay for your own health insurance.”
Staring at a computer all day might not seem healthy, but software engineers are doing something right. The position topped both CareerCast.com’s Best Jobs list (software engineer) and CareerBliss.com’s Happiest Jobs list (software quality assurance engineer was first; software engineer, 15th) for 2012.
“Those are the places people want to work, the Googles, the Intels, the more progressive companies that hold their workers accountable for the work they produce, not necessarily the hours they spend in the office,” says Dr. Chosewood.
Sitting all day can have drawbacks. Some companies are experimenting with standing desks and conference rooms, and treadmill workstations.
Florists earned a spot on Monster.com’s 10 healthy professions list. “Being around plants and nature has
been shown to reduce stress and blood pressure,” says DeZube. Benefits probably extend to horticulturists, gardeners, and landscapers too, she adds.
“It can be tremendously rewarding, to make a lasting impression on your customers at important moments in their lives,” says Jayne Eastwick, 54, of Eastwick’s Florist in Edgewater Park, N.J.
Still, deadlines are tight and can be stressful, she says, and carpal tunnel syndrome and back pain (from standing and lugging heavy buckets) aren’t uncommon.
Employer-sponsored health insurance is a key part of workplace health, so companies in the business have a leg up. Three of the 12 Well Workplace Awards given out in 2012 by the Wellness Council of America went to health insurance companies.
Actuaries, who often work as statistical analysts for insurance companies, were ranked second in CareerCast’s Best Jobs 2012 list, due to its low level of stress and physical demands. The job also earned a spot on Monster.com’s 2012 Best Careers for Right Now list because of its low unemployment levels—a sure boost for workers’ emotional health.
Allied health professional
Several of CareerCast.com’s top jobs for 2012 are in the health field: Medical records technician took first in the Least Stressful Jobs list, followed by medical laboratory technician in fifth place and dietitian in eighth, while dental hygienist and occupational therapist were fourth and seventh on the overall Best Jobs list.
These people—unlike hospital doctors and nurses—often work in office environments or labs with more regular hours and predictability, says Dr. Chosewood. And because their careers focus on some aspect of health, they’re more likely to implement healthy habits into their own lives.
Federal, state, and city workers often have generous benefits packages compared to those in the private sector, including holidays off and ample vacation time. And because government offices are often responsible for implementing wellness programs and initiatives, their workplaces and employees are often among the first to take advantage of them.
But government work is highly variable, particularly on the local level. Public safety and construction workers, doctors and nurses, and schoolteachers don’t necessarily work in work in particularly low-stress or safe environments.
Office administrative assistants and support staff had the fewest reported injuries and illnesses in a University of Georgia 2012 study.
“There is certainly a level of control that comes with the predictability of a job that’s in an office setting, where you come in and you leave at the same time every day and pretty much know what to expect every day,” says Dr. Chosewood. However, overuse injuries from typing, back pain from sitting, and weight gain from an inactive lifestyle are a risk.
And these positions aren’t for everyone; prone to overwork and under-appreciation, they can trigger depression.
Small business employee
A big company can have perks—benefits, advancement, resources—but may feel impersonal and uninspiring to some. For these people, small businesses may be more fulfilling.
A 2012 study found that U.S. counties with more locally-owned businesses are healthier overall—lower mortality, obesity, and diabetes rates—than those with larger companies.
“Working for a small business can be good for morale,” says Dr. Chosewood. Entrepreneurial, highly energetic owners may be dedicated to their own health and the health of their employees, although it can be challenging for very small businesses to provide benefits and wellness programs, he adds.
Healthy or unhealthy?
Not all jobs fit neatly in a category. What makes you happy also contributes to your overall health, says DeZube. “One woman’s happiness is another woman’s misery,” says DeZube. Even red flags, like long hours and stressful environments, may be just fine for people who thrive on the energy.
“If I’m a yoga studio owner and wake up at 4 a.m. with a great idea for a new class, that’s healthy,” she says. “It’s not healthy when you wake up at 4 a.m. thinking negative thoughts about the boss or the job.”
The following jobs have the potential to be the best—or the worst—depending on the individual.
More people are trading in their office jobs for the paycheck-by-uncertain-paycheck life of the self-employed.
“At my old job, there were days I literally didn’t see the sun,” says freelance writer Sharon Liao, 33, of Brooklyn, NY. “I had no time for exercise; I would come home make a sandwich, and collapse into bed.” Now she sets her own schedule, eats healthier, and can go for a bike ride during the day.
But she’s also tempted to work longer hours. “It’s too easy now to check email and wind up working another hour before bed.” Another challenge? Affordable health insurance. “It’s complicated and expensive,” she says.
The higher you climb the corporate ladder, the higher your salary and benefits may go as well. But so can the hours and stress.
“We know that too many hours at work takes away hours that could be used for health-promoting activities,” says Dr. Chosewood. “Often senior leaders have these very driven, Type-A personalities—something that’s already associated with increased heart disease risk.” Highly driven people may not keep up with health screenings or pay attention to symptoms.
Bottom line: Find the right position to suit your personality—and take care of yourself both on and off the clock—to be a productive, happier, and healthier employee.
Be sure to also check out the Worst Jobs For Your Health