Too many of us prioritize our work over our health. The 80’s and 90’s glorified climbing the corporate ladder with little regard for maintenance of body or mind. Working overtime, skipping vacation, and taking lunch at your desk became commonplace, if not expected, behavior. Entry level analysts who entered the fiercely competitive world of finance suffered burnout, physical health problems and sometimes even death. Yes, there were cases of physically healthy employees in their early 20s who died after months of sleeping 2-3 hours a night living under extreme pressure to succeed. Today, we’re more aware of how certain work habits can actually be harmful to us.
There are the obvious examples-
- Working hunched forward at our desks
- Spending most of our waking hours with no natural light
- Not having time to exercise
- Losing chunks of time commuting
But there are also less obvious ways our work can adversely affect our health-
- Not spending time with our kids or partners
- Not having the authority to ignore a call outside of office hours
- Not being able to schedule appointments with doctors or therapists during working hours
- Being asked to sacrifice your time for no other reason than conformity to company procedure
This last one hit a nerve with audiences of the 1999 film, Office Space. We see the main character be chided for being minutes late only to see him arrive at his cubicle with nothing to do. My own struggles wrangling my physical and mental health began in a similar fashion. I had taken a late night call from my boss and stayed up until almost 3am fixing a presentation my colleague had submitted. The next morning I arrived at the office exhausted and snuck out to take a short nap in our unused conference room. A colleague from another department entered the room, turned on the light and told me in passing that I should get my rest at home. Well, yes, that was how it was supposed to work. But I had spend my precious nighttime hours at home working for the company on a last minute request. I started to examine the toll office life had taken on my body and mind.
In my home country my insulin was not covered by my insurance. As a Type 1 Diabetic, I rely on daily access to insulin for my survival. I was scheduling visits to my doctor immediately after work and would sometimes rush through traffic only to arrive at my appointment 10 minutes late and be forced to reschedule. My local gym offered very affordable monthly plans but didn’t open early enough for me to workout before my boss needed me in the office. I was forced to pay almost double for a gym that opened an hour earlier and added to my commute.
I remembered how inexpensive insulin had been when I was traveling overseas and I decided to make the leap and find work in a new country. I relied more on remote work and had the flexibility to go where I needed to go for surgery, insulin, dental cleanings, etc. This new life allowed me to take care of myself on my schedule. I could schedule physical and mental health classes or courses during the week. Some companies and countries are built on structures that make it more difficult for individuals to take care of themselves. Each of us has a list of health priorities and we can all explore our options finding a working lifestyle that suits us. I made the conscious decision to devote resources to my remote working life so I’d always have a Plan B if I found myself in a situation where my sleep, diet, my blood sugar, exercise, or mood were interfering too much with my life.
After a few years, I realized my mental health was heavily influencing my financial health as well. Where I spent money, how I tracked my spending, how much I kept to my savings goals, how much I diversified my income, and keeping on top of monthly and yearly bills were all much more in focus when my head was clear. Similarly, my physical health was key to my mental health. This included sleep, diet and exercise. A well-rested and well-fueled Mr. Curtin would be more prepared to put the necessary energy into a morning routine. Having energy, thinking sharply, and being alert allowed me to be a more effective worker. It mattered more that my mind and body were ready to work than it did when I first logged in to the company platform each morning. If larger corporates weren’t going to give me the flexibility to keep my mental and physical health, I was going to have to take responsibility for building a working life style that would. No more slogging to the office just to clock in on time just to sneak a nap in the conference room… you deserve better.