Is your job harming your wellbeing? (And what's the antidote if it is?)

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By Joyce Chong


Work. We spend roughly 90,000 hours of our life at work so it’s understandable that our work has an impact on our wellbeing. However, does our job itself affect our wellbeing?

Given that different roles present different challenges, let’s take a closer look at how your job affects your wellbeing. So, are there any signs of differences in wellbeing between occupations? Two articles we note today suggest that there is a difference:

1)    A 2005 paper by Sheena Johnson and colleagues looked at 26 different occupations and found six occupations to be associated with poorer overall physical and psychological wellbeing as well as lower job satisfaction – ambulance, teachers, social services providing care, customer services (call centres), prison officers, and police.

2)    A 2007 survey of various occupations by Beaton Consulting found that Australian professionals reported higher-than-average levels of depressive symptoms relative to the general population. Notably, those in law firms had higher rates of depressive symptoms compared with those working in the fields of IT, Insurance underwriting, Accounting, and Engineering.

Why might we find differences in wellbeing across occupations?

Some reasons include:

  • The nature and conditions of the job. For example, first responders (e.g. ambulance, police, firefighters) face situations involving potential threats to safety and trauma, and work pressures can be unpredictable. Similarly, those in the caring profession can suffer the emotional toll of their job.
  • The organisation structure, climate, and culture. For example, an organisation that values output above all else can lead individuals to feel like a small cog in a big machine.
  • The team environment and relationships, with toxic team environments having a negative impact on wellbeing.
  • It may be that wellbeing differs because of the personality traits that lead to individuals going into the profession. For example, perfectionism is a trait commonly seen amongst lawyers, doctors, and professional athletes.

So, how do we boost our wellbeing at work?

Alas, wellbeing at work is not one size fits all, however at the recent Happiness and Its Causes conference the themes of Meaning and Social Connections emerged as critical to wellbeing and happiness across a range of situations (including the workplace).

Meaning refers to having a greater purpose - a reason for doing what you do that is beyond just you. Central to the concept of meaning when it comes to work is whether you are motivated by intrinsic factors (where the pursuit of goals is linked to your belief system and includes factors such as acceptance, curiosity, social contact) or extrinsic factors (where the pursuit of goals is driven by external factors such as awards, money, etc.).

One study compared the wellbeing of social advocacy lawyers (‘service’ lawyers; driven by intrinsic motivating factors such as making a difference) with that of ‘money’ lawyers (driven by income and wealth), and found that in spite of earning less money, ‘service’ lawyers exhibited better wellbeing and drank less alcohol compared to 'money' lawyers.

Even if at times you find your work itself has no ‘bigger picture’, consider what meaning it creates for you in your personal life. Does it mean that you’re able to afford to provide a home for your family? Does it mean that you’re able to fund your travels to connect with family and friends interstate or overseas?

Social connections also play a role when it comes to wellbeing at work, but why? The thing is, we don’t just go to work to do work - our social connections at work are also important. 

Think back to when you were part of a team with a toxic environment. What impact did it have on the ability of the team to work together to achieve a common goal? What was the impact on you as an individual? Did you look forward to going to work, or dread it instead? Did it motivate you to move on to seek a different job and a different work environment?

So how can we build more positive social connections at work? Some simple tips include:

  • Greeting your colleagues in the morning.
  • Asking how someone is and really listening.
  • Small niceties – hold the door open, offer to get a colleague a drink if you’re heading to the kitchen to do so yourself – these acts may seem small, but they foster connections with others.

These may seem like small gestures, however it's the little things that can make a real difference in the workplace.

If you're interested in learning more about work and psychology check back with us in July when we blog more on work.


Want more? You can connect with The Skill Collective in the following ways:

  • Contact us to make an individual appointment to get started on making changes.
  • Get access to our FREE resource library filled with exclusive tip-sheets on Wellbeing, Mental Health, and Performance that you won't find here on the blog
  • Join our FREE 14-day Wellbeing Challenge. Tailored for busy lives we're talking wellbeing tips for better body, mind, and heart in just 15 minutes a day, delivered straight to your inbox.


Beaton Research and Consulting Pty Ltd (2007). Annual professions study 2007, Beaton Consulting. South Yarra, Victoria.

Goddard, R., O’Brien, P., & Goddard, M. (2006). Work environment predictors of beginning teacher burnout. British Educational Research Journal, 32, 857-874.

Johnson, S., Cooper, C., Cartwright, S., Donald, I., Taylor, P., & Millet, C. (2005). The experience of work-related stress across occupations.  Journal of Managerial Psychology, 20, 178-187.

Pillay, J., Goddard, R., & Wilss, L. (2005). Well-being, burnout and competence: Implications for teacher. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 30(2).

Sheldon, K.M., & Krieger, L.S. (2014). Service job lawyers are happier than money job lawyers, despite their lower income. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9, 219-226.