Many of us believe that any job is better than no job at all, but science shows otherwise. A UK study followed more than 1,000 unemployed adults and monitored how their mental health changed once they found work. The interesting thing is that while those who found good jobs obviously had improved mental health, those who found low paid or unstable work showed no mental health change, and decreased physical health.
Low-quality jobs lead to inflammation
The study defined job quality by pay levels, job security, satisfaction and levels of anxiety. It looked at stress levels according to a range of physical health signs, such as blood pressure, cholesterol and hormone levels. Those people who got low-quality jobs had higher rates of inflammation and lower creatinine clearance rate, a measure of how well the kidneys are functioning.
Of course, unemployment is also tough on your health. One study on Pennsylvania men a year after they were laid off found that their risk of dying had doubled. “Employment is the essential element of social status. When that is taken away, people become susceptible to depression, cardiovascular disease, AIDS and many other illnesses that increase mortality,” says M. Harvey Brenner, the author of a major study on the issue.
It’s also worth noting that the UK has a more extensive social welfare system than countries like the U.S., protecting people from some of the worse hardships they tend to face when going without work for long periods of time. Nevertheless, the finding that a bad job is worse, or at least just as bad as unemployment, is worth paying attention to.
Here are the hard-to-ignore ways a bad job destroys your health:
1. Unwanted weight gain
Gaining weight isn’t always bad; sometimes you need to or want to, or you’re pregnant or have other hopefully happy things going on. But unwanted weight gain has been directly linked to job stress. Some people stress eat, others may not have the time for exercise or movement, and stress can add an additional lack of energy for exercise to that.
2. Depression from overtime
People who work overtime are more likely to have reduced physical and mental well-being. Often people working overtime skip meals, and they have higher rates of depression. People who work at least 10 hours per day have a 60 percent higher chance of health-related problems.
3. Muscular problems from sitting too long
For those with office-type jobs, sitting for long periods of time can lead to higher risk rates of musculoskeletal disorders, obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. If this is you, and there’s no way to change this, try to at least take a two-minute walk every half an hour.
4. Tired brain due to lack of breaks
Likewise, if you’re unhappy at work, odds are it’s the sort of job that doesn’t include decent breaks. Breaks are vital to combating stress, to workplace satisfaction, stronger creativity and mental skills, and therefore, your own health as well.
5. Long commutes lead to less physical activity
If the job is a chunky bus trip away, the commute itself is associated with a decrease in physical activity, along with systolic and diastolic blood pressure, according to some studies. This means a big gap between your maximum and minimum blood pressure readings, which indicates poor heart function.
6. Obligation leads to burnout
People who stay in a job they hate for a long time, especially due to a sense of obligation, or lack of other options, are more likely to experience exhaustion, stress and burnout.
7. A bad boss can cause anxiety
If you’re unhappy at work, odds are there’s a person or team responsible for the conditions leading to that unhappiness. A Swedish study linked chronic stress of a bad boss to an elevated risk of heart disease. Other studies listed other complaints such as depression, sleep issues and high blood pressure.
8. Extreme boredom can kill you
This one is a slight exaggeration, but just slightly. Being bored to death is a real thing, validated by a University College London study. People who are bored are more likely to die earlier because boredom leads to unhappiness, feelings of being unfulfilled and demotivation. These feelings sometimes lead to people adopting habits like smoking and drinking in excess, thereby leading to increased risks of dying from stroke or heart disease.
What are the alternatives?
The list is certainly long and, of course, many of these things can be countered within a job. Ask for longer breaks if you feel you can, get up and stretch, refuse to work past the end of shift, have a chat with the boss (not always easy, but necessary), and talk to workmates about how you can collectively reduce your workplace stress.
The point is, to the extent that you can, it could be worth staying unemployed that little bit longer, in order to get a job that is more satisfying and values you and treats you better. For those already in a lousy job, taking that leap to look for something better certainly isn’t an easy decision to make, especially if that crappy boss and all that stress has worn down your self-esteem. Then again, that’s precisely why it’s important to stand up for your well-being and fight for what you deserve.
— Tamara Pearson