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Smiling businesswoman sitting at an office table looking over her shoulder with colleagues working in the background

Physical, mental and social benefits of working

Apart from the financial stress of limited income and being financially dependent on others, unemployment is linked to a number of personal and social stressors.

These include:

  • reduced self-esteem
  • loss of life roles, such as being a ‘breadwinner’ for the family
  • lack of a daily routine or ‘reason’ to get up in the morning
  • reduced sense of purpose in life
  • reduced social networks with colleagues in a workplace
  • low sense of security
  • declining general health and fitness.

The evidence is clear according to The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP, 2016). ‘Good’ work is beneficial to health and wellbeing whereas long term work absence, work disability and unemployment can have a negative impact on health and wellbeing.

So, what constitutes ‘good’ work?

RACP (2013) defines it as ‘a source of productive engagement, economic stability and personal interaction, all of which have a positive impact on recovery or managing an ongoing illness or disability.’

The evidence linking ‘good’ work and good health is compelling. There are proven benefits in relation to:

  1. Physical and mental health
  2. Levels of social interaction
  3. Financial security
  4. Socioeconomic status
  5. Sense of identity

The health benefits of work apply to a broad range of disabilities, including:

  • Mental illness
    Whilst the worst jobs in terms of psychosocial risk factors are not good for mental health, most jobs are better than unemployment for the prevalence of mental illness.
  • Spinal cord injury
    Research shows that whilst relationships and general health are the highest priority after spinal cord injury, the next most important issue is access to employment, which is a predictor of life satisfaction and longevity for people with spinal cord injury.
  • Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)
    Employment is associated with better quality of life and physical functioning for people with acquired brain injury.
  • Intellectual disability
    Competitive employment for people with intellectual disability has been associated with higher levels of satisfaction and lower levels of depression than sheltered employment, which is in turn better than unemployment.

Rehabilitation Counsellors specialise in helping people (especially people with injury or disability) to gain and maintain employment. They do that in a holistic way with a special focus on the importance of ‘participation’ from a psychosocial perspective. This includes assisting people to reconnect with family, friends, community and society, as well as to persist with job search in line with individual interests, abilities and aptitudes, as well as with an understanding of the labour market.

It is important to have healthy strategies while unemployed and seeking work. Think about each of the following.

  1. Stay connected with people
    Social engagement and participation in a range of contexts are known to be an important factor in maintaining health and well-being, so it is important to find ways to stay connected with other people in society generally, as well as family and friends, especially when unemployed. It is also often the way to find a new job through networking.

  2. Look after your health
    Looking after all aspects of your health is important for your own well-being, but also for your capacity to contribute to the needs of your family, friends, community and society, as well as for future employment opportunities.

  3. Set goals and pursue them
    Whilst it may not be easy to get another job or reach other goals you have, the best way to not achieve a goal is to give up. Break your big or long-term goals down to smaller and shorter-term goals to make them more achievable.

Your task

Reflect on your personal experiences (or a loved one’s experience) of work and unemployment. Next, select the comments link and post your thoughts on the benefits of work and the implications of NOT having work.


RACP. (2013). What is Good Work? Position Statement, October 2013.

RACP. (2016). Health Benefits of Good Work.

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This article is from the free online course:

Realising Career Potential: Rethinking Disability

Griffith University