No Job vs Lousy Job

image: woman in  bad job

For mental health, bad job worse than no job

By Matt McMillen
Health Magazine
March 14, 2011

With unemployment still high, job seekers who have been discouraged by a lack of work might be inclined to take the first opportunity they’re offered. That will help pay the bills, but it could cause other problems: A new study suggests that some jobs are so demoralizing they’re actually worse for mental health than not working at all.

The findings add a new wrinkle to the large body of research showing that being out of work is associated with a greater risk of mental health problems. In the study, which followed more than 7,000 Australians over a seven-year period, unemployed people generally reported feeling calmer, happier, less depressed, and less anxious after finding work, but only if their new jobs were rewarding and manageable.

“Moving from unemployment to a poor-quality job offered no mental health benefit, and in fact was more detrimental to mental health than remaining unemployed,” says the lead author of the study, Peter Butterworth, Ph.D., a senior research fellow at the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University, in Canberra.

Butterworth and his colleagues analyzed data from an annual survey in which participants described their mental state, their employment status, and—or those with a job—details of the working conditions that they enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy, as the case may be). The survey respondents were asked how strongly they agreed with statements such as “My job is complex and difficult” and “I worry about the future of my job.”

The researchers focused on four job characteristics that are closely linked with mental health: the complexity and demands of the work, job security, compensation, and job control (i.e., the freedom to decide how best to do the job, rather than being ordered around).

Unemployed people who found a job that rated well in these areas reported a substantial improvement in their mental health. By contrast, newly employed people who felt overwhelmed, insecure about their employment, underpaid, and micromanaged reported a sharp decline in their mental health, including increased symptoms of depression and anxiety. Even those who couldn’t find a job fared better.

This last finding was “striking,” Butterworth says. “This runs counter to a common belief that any job offers psychological benefits for individuals over the demoralizing effects of unemployment.”

Although certain types of jobs—such as working in a customer-service CALL CENTER—are more likely to be downers, the working environment tends to have a greater impact on mental health than the job description itself, Butterworth adds.

Managers are especially important to employee well-being, says Robert Hogan, Ph.D., an expert on personality in the workplace and a former chair of the department of psychology at the University of Tulsa. “Bad bosses will make anybody unhappy,” Hogan says. “Stress comes from bad managers.”

Policy-makers should address the impact that the workplace has on mental—and not just physical—health, Butterworth says. “In the same way that we no longer accept workplaces that are physically unsafe or in which employees are exposed to dangerous or toxic substances, there could be a greater focus on ensuring a more positive psychosocial environment at work.”



Study: Having a Bad Job Is Worse than No Job For Mental Health

By Hans Villarica
March 15, 2011

Maybe unemployment isnt so bad after all. A new study says that, income notwithstanding, having a demanding, unstable and thankless job may make you even unhappier than not having a job at all.

Given that a paid position gives workers purpose and a structured role, researchers had long thought that having any job would make a person happier than being unemployed. That turns out to be true if you move into a high-quality job җ but taking a bad job is detrimental to mental health.

Australian National University researchers looked at how various psychosocial work attributes affect well-being. They found that poor-quality jobs those with high demands, low control over decision making, high job insecurity and an effort-reward imbalance ח had more adverse effects on mental health than joblessness. (More on Why the Recession May Trigger More Depression Among Men)

The researchers analyzed seven years of data from more than 7,000 respondents of an Australian labor survey for their Occupational and Environmental Medicine study in which they wrote:

As hypothesized, we found that those respondents who were unemployed had significantly poorer mental health than those who were employed. However, the mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or more often superior to those in jobs of the poorest psychosocial quality The current results therefore suggest that employment strategies seeking to promote positive outcomes for unemployed individuals need to also take account of job design and workplace policy.

Moving from unemployment to a job with high psychosocial quality was associated with improvements in mental health, the authors said. Meanwhile, the mental health of people in the least-satisfying jobs declined the most over time ŗ and the worse the job, the more it affected workers well-being.

Unemployed people in the Australian study had a mental-health score (based on the five-item Mental Health Inventory, which measures depression, anxiety and positive well-being in the previous month) of 68.5. Employed people had an average score of 75.1. The researchers found that moving from unemployment to a good job raised workersҒ scores by 3.3 points, but taking a bad job led to a 5.6-point drop below average. That was worse than remaining unemployed, which led to decline of about one point.

These findings underscore the importance of employment to a persons well-being. Rather than seeking any new job, the study suggests, people who are unemployed or stuck doing lousy work should seek new positions that offer more security, autonomy and a reasonable workload. But thatҒs a lot easier said than done. (More on Among American workers, fear of losing your job is linked to health problems)

Perhaps employers could be persuaded to be more mindful of the mental health of their workers happier employees are a benefit to their employers. “The erosion of work conditions,” the researchers noted, “may incur a health cost, which over the longer term will be both economically and socially counterproductive.”



Is Any Job Really Better Than No Job?
Being out of work seems to hurt health, but so do jobs that are stressful and unrewarding.

Bu Olga Khazan
The Atlantic
Aug 25, 2017

Any job is better than no job.

Or at least that’s the thinking when it comes to preserving physical and mental health after unemployment. Indeed, MANY STUDIES have found that the long-term unemployed have at least twice the rate of depression and anxiety, as well as higher rates of heart attacks and strokes. ONE STUDY on Pennsylvania men weathering the 1980s recession found that a year after they were laid off, the men’s risk of dying doubled. And as one review of the most recent recession put it, “nearly all individual-level studies indicated that job loss, financial strain, and housing issues were associated with declines in self-rated health during the Great Recession.”

“Employment is the essential element of social status,” SAID the public-health researcher M. Harvey Brenner in 2002, the year he authored a major study that showed that unemployment is associated with a greater risk of death. “When that is taken away, people become susceptible to depression, cardiovascular disease, AIDS, and many other illnesses that increase mortality.”

But a new study complicates the idea that literally any job is better than no job, at least when it comes to health outcomes. Instead, some jobs might only exacerbate chronic stress - and in the long run, disease.

For the STUDY, recently published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, Tarani Chandola and Nan Zhang from the University of Manchester examined 1,116 people in the United Kingdom aged 35 to 75 who were unemployed in 2009, when the study began. They measured their indicators of chronic stressחas determined by metrics like allostatic load, badӔ cholesterol, and C-reactive protein levelsover the course of two years. (Allostatic load is a measure of wear and tear on the body’s endocrine and immune systems as a result of stress; C-reactive protein is made by the liver in response to inflammation.) If the subjects got jobs, the researchers gauged their level of “job quality,” as measured by how anxious their jobs made them, how satisfied they were with their jobs, how much autonomy and security they experienced, and how much they were paid.

Compared to those who remained unemployed, those who moved into poorer-quality jobs had higher markers of inflammation and a lower creatinine clearance rate, a measure of how well the kidneys are functioning. Those in better jobs, meanwhile, had less inflammation. Those in good health were more likely to get any kind of job in the first place, so the findings cant be explained by the subjects’ health status at the outset.

Those who moved into good jobs also scored higher on mental health than those who remained unemployed, but those who moved into poor-quality jobs did not see improvements in mental health. In other words, the simple act of working, say, a minimum-wage job wasnt enough to boost the participants mental health.

This study builds upon a recent META_ANALYSIS, which found that though unemployment is still worse for health overall, “job insecurity” was also associated with physical symptoms.

This study might not be perfectly generalizable to the United States, since the United Kingdom’s MORE-GENEROUS social-welfare system might have been protecting the unemployed workers from some of the causes of poor health, such as lacking enough food or a safe place to sleep. It’s possible that the unemployed workers would have been more stressed out if, for example, they also lacked a way to pay their medical bills, as they would have in many parts of the United States.

And i’ts important to note that higher biomarkers of inflammation do not necessarily mean the employees in bad jobs were already feeling sick. The authors point out that biomarkers are the first step in a long path to disease. People usually don’t notice their levels of stress-related inflammation unless they start to experience clinical symptoms, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

So it might very well be years before the effects of a toxic job start showing up in your annual physical. But like anything else thats stressful and unrewarding, it may very well leave a biological mark.