Bad Jobs Hurt Your Health by the Time You're 40

Research shows how unsatisfying work harms you through the early career years.

Posted Oct 04, 2016

No surprise, here: Yet another study has demonstrated that unengaging, insufficiently meaningful work—and the overall work and management culture—has negative impact upon mental health. But this study found that it becomes apparent by the time you’re 40.

The new research found that debilitating work experiences in your 20s and 30s have an accumulated negative impact on your mental health. People who were unhappy with their work early in their careers became more depressed, worried, and had more trouble sleeping.

Of course, many previous studies have shown that the majority of people are unhappy with their work—even hate it. For example, a 2014 survey by the Conference Board. But oddly—despite all the research and clinical evidence that debilitating work and unhealthy management impacts your mental health in increasingly harmful ways over time—those mental health consequences continue to be overlooked or ignored by organizational leadership.

So this new research may help raise attention to the fact that debilitating work experiences, combined with unhealthy, unsupportive management practices, harms both your mental and physical health—as I’ve written about in many previous posts here.  The continuing problem is the slowness of organizations’ response to this information in ways that retain and promote employee engagement as well as an organization’s success in this changing, highly competitive era.

Consequently, this new study is one that shouldn’t be dismissed: Conducted by Ohio State researchers, it investigated the long-term health effects of job satisfaction—or lack of it—experienced at earlier points in people’s careers. It analyzed data from longitudinal surveys of nearly 6,500 American workers, in which people rated their level of satisfaction with their work.

According to the findings, all participants reported a number of health issues after they reached the age of 40. Specifically, those people who expressed the lowest job satisfaction over the years reported much higher levels of depression, sleep problems, and excessive worry; as well as scoring lower on traditional mental health measures.

Moreover, those who initially reported high job satisfaction, but then had a downward trend, were more likely than the consistently satisfied group to report trouble sleeping, excessive worry, and symptoms of psychiatric conditions And among those who had low job satisfaction, their mental health was more affected than their physical health.

As one of the researchers, Hui Zheng, pointed out, however, “The higher levels of mental health problems for those with low job satisfaction may be a precursor to future physical problems. Increased anxiety and depression could lead to cardiovascular or other health problems that won’t show up until they are older.”

Zheng added that a person does not have to be at the end of their career to see the health impacts of job satisfaction on mental health: the study participants were examined while in their 40s. Overall, “We found that there is a cumulative effect of job satisfaction on health that appears as early as your 40s,” said lead author Jonathan Dirlam.

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© 2016 Douglas LaBier