Being in a badly paid job with little or no support can be as bad for your mental health as having no job at all, the results of a new study indicate. (IrishHealth.com)
According to Australian researchers, because being in work is associated with better mental health than unemployment, government policies have tended to focus on the risks posed by joblessness, without necessarily considering the impact the quality of a job may have.
They collected data on over 7,000 people of working age. The participants’ mental health was assessed and they were asked about their employment status.
For those who worked, the ‘psychosocial’ quality of their job was graded according to measures related to demands and complexity, level of control and perceived job security. Respondents were also asked if they felt they received fair pay for the work they did.
Not unexpectedly, the study found that those who were unemployed had poorer mental health overall compared to those in work.
However, after taking account of a range of factors with the potential to influence the results, such as educational attainment and marital status, the mental health of those who were jobless was comparable to, or often better than, that of people who worked, but were in poor quality jobs.
Those in the poorest quality jobs experienced the sharpest decline in mental health over time. Furthermore, there was a direct link between the number of unfavourable working conditions experienced and mental health, with each additional adverse condition lowering the mental health score.
The researchers from the Australian National University noted that there is some evidence to show that employment is associated with better physical and mental health and the mental health of those out of work tends to improve when they find a job.
However, in this study, they found that the health benefits of finding a job after a period of unemployment depended on the quality of the post. In other words, job quality predicted mental health.
Getting a high quality job after being unemployed improved mental health by an average of three points, but getting a poor quality job was more detrimental to mental health than remaining unemployed, resulting in a loss of 5.6 points.
The researchers pointed out that paid work confers several benefits, including a defined social role and purpose, friendships and structured time. But jobs which afford little control, are very demanding, or provide little support and reward, are not good for mental health, they insisted.
“Work first policies are based on the notion that any job is better than none as work promotes economic as well as personal wellbeing. Psychosocial job quality is a pivotal factor that needs to be considered in the design and delivery of employment and welfare policy,” the team concluded.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Occupational and Environmental Medicine.