What is occupational wellness? 5 signs your work-life balance needs work (and how to fix it)

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Does your job add to or take away from your overall personal wellness?

Answer that question and you’ll start to understand occupational wellness.

What is occupational wellness?

Occupational wellness, or work-life balance, is your ability to get personal fulfillment from your work while still enjoying your life.

When the pandemic hit, it brought even more attention to how people truly feel about their jobs. Today, work-life balance varies more than ever before. Some people log more hours remotely than they ever did in the office. Others have achieved a balance they never thought possible.

One thing employees agree on: wellbeing matters. Nearly half of employees are prepared to move to a new organization to improve their wellbeing.

WellTuned spoke with Damali Curry, chief learning officer for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, to learn about occupational wellness — including how you can boost your own.

Why does occupational wellness matter?

Curry: You can’t do your job well if you aren’t mentally and physically healthy, or if you don’t find value in your work. Occupational wellness takes that into account — for both the employee and employer.

The pandemic brought this to the forefront. Today people are asking: Why do I have to only work one way? How can I change my job so I’m more satisfied or content? Occupational wellness is a two-way street, and we’re all working to find a new balance.

People who are satisfied — in their career or their job — typically hit the marks below.

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1. Purpose

Curry: A sense that you’re contributing to a mission is powerful, especially on “bad days” when you’re struggling for non-work-related reasons.

2. Skills

Curry: Employees need to feel like they’re using their skills and being intellectually stimulated to be satisfied. They also need to feel like they’re being presented with reasonably challenging tasks to stay engaged long-term.

3. Flexibility

Curry: Flexibility looks different for everyone. If you have school-aged children, you’ll need to leave when they’re sick or to attend school functions. If you like to travel, flexibility may come more in the form of remote work.

Today’s competitive talent landscape means that employers need to provide flexibility and employees need to use it responsibly.

4. Input

Curry: Satisfied employees know that their employers will ask them questions, listen to the answers, and make the necessary changes.

5. Boundaries

Curry: Employees with high occupational wellness send 36% fewer emails after working hours — and that’s just one statistic that speaks to the importance of healthy boundaries.

Employees need boundaries, whether it’s predetermined “focus” hours where everyone signs off email to work on projects, or a few days a week when everyone agrees to come into the office for meetings.

6. Communication

Curry: Clear communication is key to setting employees up for success. That includes being clear about company policies, who each employee reports to, and streamlining all the methods by which an employee is required to communicate.

7. Help

Curry: In an increasingly remote world, it’s important that employees feel like they can ask for help when they need it. Leaders need to check in, and employees need to be able to raise a hand if they need help, especially when it comes to mental health. That includes everything from taking your vacation days to accessing mental-health resources.

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What are the signs that you’re unhappy at work?

Curry: We often think of ourselves as being either happy or unhappy, but happiness is a spectrum, and contentment is affected by all kinds of things in your life.

Health, relationships, family problems — all of these affect your personal happiness. Consider your life as a whole as you evaluate your fulfillment from your job or career.

5 signs your occupational wellness could be better

1. Dread

Curry: Do you dread Monday mornings? Sure, we all know the “Everybody Hates Mondays” memes. But if you hate the idea of walking into your workplace or logging on every day to the point of actual dread, something should change.

2. Poor attitude or motivation

Curry: How do you feel when you show up to work? If you’re apathetic or unmotivated — about your position, duties, department, or company as a whole — that’s an indicator of unhappiness.

Are you:

  • Chronically late?
  • Checked out in meetings?
  • Unlikely to contribute your opinion?
  • More likely to offer complaints than solutions?
  • Certain that you don’t have an impact?

If you answer “yes” to any of these, you’re probably struggling with occupational wellness.

3. Feeling burned out or overwhelmed 

Curry: Everyone gets stressed from time to time, but it shouldn’t be a daily occurrence.

  • Are you being asked to do a reasonable amount of work for your hours?
  • Do you have the resources you need to do your job well?
  • Do you feel appreciated?

If your answer is “no” to any of the above, you may have an overly-challenging workload.

4. Refusing to engage

Curry: If you have no interest in connecting with your coworkers, you may be in the wrong environment or industry.

While some people are naturally less social than others, everyone needs positive interactions to create trust and foster teamwork. If your company asks for a level of engagement you’re not comfortable with, it might be time for a change. But remember: networking with colleagues is a great way to grow your career.

5. Feeling stuck or uninspired

Curry: Feeling unfulfilled at work is all too common. I’ve been there!

Years ago, I was in a job I knew wasn’t right for me. To get through it, I got creative — I asked for more of the responsibilities I wanted and made connections where I could, which inched me closer to my dream job.

But the point is that everyone understands feeling stuck — especially if you have “a job” rather than “a career.”

What’s the difference between a job and a career?

Curry: Having a job versus a career is an important distinction.

  • A job is work you do to earn money.

Jobs come in all shapes and sizes, but often they’re part-time, paid hourly, come without benefits and don’t require a lot of special skills or experience.

  • A career is a long-term professional journey.

You may hold several positions under different employers as part of your career. Ideally, your career is connected to your passions or skills.

Curry: This doesn’t mean that a job can’t be challenging, stressful or fulfilling! Often jobs are both challenging and stressful without being fulfilling, and that’s what causes the problem.

3 tips for people who have a job — not yet a career

Curry: As I said, I know what it’s like to be stuck in a position that’s all drudgery. Here are three things you can do while you work on transitioning from job to career.

1. Be present and proactive

Curry: If you’re not being challenged, find things you can do for other departments to make your job more interesting. Ask people to teach you new things, and focus on the energy you’re bringing to tasks. Talk to your supervisor about how you can level up.

While there are no guarantees when you do this kind of “internal volunteering,” it will help you build your resume and get out of a rut, which helps your overall outlook and attitude.

2. Get involved professionally

Curry: Join professional associations or clubs where you can use the skills you feel like aren’t being used at your job. You’ll be able to network with others while building confidence and self esteem.

It will also keep your mind off the fact that you’re not yet in a job you love. Look at your job as a part of a larger vision – your career is a marathon, not a sprint.

3. Volunteer

Curry: Volunteering is a great way to bridge the gap between passion and experience.

Say you’re a sales associate but you want to be a web developer. You might take classes or teach yourself some things on the side. That’s not necessarily going to be enough to get you a position in your preferred industry.

In the meantime, offer those skills to a nonprofit. Be upfront that you’re a beginner, and take your time learning. Once you’ve built them a website, you’ll have a new portfolio piece and reference, and they’ll have something valuable to them as well.

More on employee wellness from WellTuned

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.