There’s no health warning on your job title

There’s no health warning on your job title

By
Gary Willmott

Last year in August, I received the worst news a son could hear: my dad had been diagnosed with terminal Asbestos Cancer (Mesothelioma). My dad had grown up in London, and at a young age he became a boilermaker working with asbestos. Back then (in the 1950’s/60’s), no-one saw anything wrong with asbestos and it was part of everyday work life.

Gradually, the warning signs of asbestos started to make public appearance, it was only in the 70’s that it was discovered to be a terminal disease.

This is a picture of my dad in the early 70’s

I had asked my dad if he knew how this happened to him, and he could actually point to a specific time in his life — it was when he was involved in a 1-week intensive project in England involving cleaning up asbestos. His co-workers were not willing to work on this project, however my dad took it on as the cash was good and he needed the money.

I was surprised that one week of intensive work could affect him for a lifetime and eventually shorten his lifespan. This got me thinking and reflecting…

How much of the work that we are doing now will have a long term effect on us in the future?

Being involved in a fast-growing startup, my day-to-day involves behaviours that I’m pretty certain could affect my long term health, such as:

  • Getting stressed.
  • Eating badly when travelling.
  • Working long hours.

Stress

I recently read Dale Carnegie’s “How to stop worrying and start living” — in his book he quotes words from Dr. Alexis Carrel, “Businessmen who do not know how to fight worry, die young.”

What shocked me about Carnegie’s book, is that it was first printed in Great Britain in 1948! Work stress isn’t new, it’s been around for a very long time. However, it seems to keep getting worse.

According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, more than one third of American workers experience chronic work stress — and this is costing American businesses billions of dollars a year in lost work hours and medical bills.

Here are some crazy facts from HSE:

  • 526,000 workers were suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) in 2016/17.
  • 12.5 million collective working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17.

Eating

Because we are always on the move, stressed and busy, we end up eating fast food or snacking on high calorie/low nutrition foods. How often are we quickly grabbing a bite whilst on the way to a meeting? The concept of “slow food” during a working day is foreign.

We all know know the ill effects of fast food, from Atherosclerosis, to Diabetes and Obesity, yet we feel it’s the only option we have during our crazy work day.

Long working hours

According to a survey published in the Harvard Business Review a few years ago, you may be working an average of 72 hours a week. Many people work at least 10 hours a day or longer; some companies even provide dinner to make sure their employees stay late!

A recent study found that those who work more than 55 hours a week have a 33% increased risk of stroke compared with those who work 35 to 40 hours week. They also have a 13% increased risk of coronary heart disease.

Jason Fried and DHH are just about to release a book called “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work” which I hope will give us some tips on remaining calm in the work place.

Don’t let work rob you

My dad was a fit and healthy person. He should have lived for at least another 10 years, yet that one week of work robbed him of 10 years of his life. According to my dad’s doctor and global health stats, 1 out of 4 men or (5 women) will get cancer, primarily caused by unhealthy eating habits and stress.

I recently watched the Jaws series with my son and one thing that stood out to me was that everyone was smoking cigarettes in public. It was normal back then — there was no restriction or health warning on cigarette packs. Thank goodness the laws have made it difficult to be a smoker nowadays. My question is, if work can be as dangerous as cigarettes, why aren’t we putting the same restrictions on how we work?

Just like smoking, work can become a destructive, addictive habit for most of us, yet no health warnings will come up like the ones on cigarette packs. We can only rely on ourselves to apply wisdom, reflect and take stock.

The positive thing about Cancer

This is the last picture taken of my dad, whilst he was physically able to visit us.

I try to see the positive in everything and I know the Big Man upstairs allows everything to happen for a reason. The positive thing about cancer is that it forced me to slow down and spend quality time with my dad in the last year of his life. It forced me to realise once again that life is short and I need to make the most of this time, by spending time with him and saying unsaid things. It also gave my dad’s friends and family the opportunity to say their goodbyes.

Three months prior to his passing, we had received worse news than at first: my dad had accelerated from Stage 1 Cancer (est. 3–4 years left to live) to Stage 4 (1–2 months to live). He ended up passing away peacefully at home on the 10th of June 2018.

I know we hear this often, but try and make the most of your close relationships. What I’ve learnt is that we might not have loads of spare time to spend with family and friends, but when we do have time, make this most of it.

Quality > Quantity.

If anything, I hope this read helps you to reflect and take stock of your work life. Please think twice before taking on a project or job that could potentially affect your health in the long run.