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Workplace culture and regulations can make fulfillment and work-life balance especially hard
Americans look to work for money, accomplishment, and personal validation. Beyond these foundational goals, workplace experts note, health and well-being are shaped by the same things that affect people in their other relationships—how they are treated, the strength and support of work-based social networks, and their ability to achieve a work-family balance that supports the rest of their lives.
"Employment is good for your health," says Wake Forest University sociologist Robin Simon. "Work gives people a source of social interaction as well as [makes] a financial contribution" to their lives, she says. The added stresses and documented health effects of job losses during the past several years only prove how important work is to our well-being.
While the recession has made many workplaces stressful environments, it hasn't changed the potential benefits that people derive from supportive management and work policies. It has, at least in the short run, intensified a work culture that has already made the United States one of the least health-friendly nations in terms of working hours and lack of policies that support healthy family life.
"Work is organized in such a way that it makes it a constant challenge to maintain social and family ties," says Lisa Berkman, a Harvard professor who has extensively studied well-being and health. "We do almost nothing in terms of how our work is organized to help families exist. Instead of facilitating that, we in the United States challenge that all the time."
Berkman is now involved in a family-friendly pilot program with a company that provides long-term care services. Many of itsemployees are women. "Managers who were open and flexible to their employees' work and family needs had employees who had lower blood pressures" and less stress, she says. "Nurses are always on the border of being...