More from WSJ.com:
The 100-Hour Work Week?.
No Work-Life Balance? It’s Your Fault.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
By Sue Shellenbarger
March 29, 2011
It’s often believed that working is good for our mental health. But what if it isn’t?
Some jobs are so bad that they are actually worse for employees’ psychological well-being than not having a job at all, according to a new study in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Researchers from the Australian National University analyzed annual data over several years from 7,155 adults, evaluating links between the nature of their jobs and their mental health. They found “the mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or superior to those in jobs of the poorest” quality.
Poor-quality jobs were defined as those with high demands, low pay and a lack of autonomy and security. Participants were asked, for example, whether a job was “more stressful than I ever imagined,” whether it was “complex and difficult,” or whether it caused them to “worry about the future.” The worse the job, the poorer the worker’s mental health, after controlling for other factors, including personality and financial hardship.
To make sure the pattern wasn’t caused by a selection effect – that is, unhappy people tending to land in bad jobs because they were already unhappy – the researchers studied what happened when the unemployed subjects finally landed work. They found those who moved into high-quality jobs showed significant improvements in mental health. But those who took poor-quality jobs showed clinically significant declines in mental well-being, compared to their own previous mind-states and to their jobless counterparts. Mental health measures included how often participants had recently felt nervous, depressed, calm or happy.