Study: For mental health, bad job worse than no job. Really?

March 14th, 2011

Really? Really? It’s better to be unemployed than to have a bad job? This passes for science? Sigh. From CNN/Health.com:

A new study suggests that some jobs are so demoralizing they’re actually worse for mental health than not working at all.┬áThe 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.

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.

That makes no sense. I need an expert to help explain. Fortunately, the article interviews just such an expert.

“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.

…┬áThis 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.”

Here’s the kicker. This expert proposes an OSHA of sorts to ensure “happy” workplace conditions. Yep. I can’t wait for the lawsuits from unhappy employees.

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.”

I graduated college in December of 2005, and I had a job with the DOD lined up to start at the beginning of January. Due to some stupid administrative/bureaucratic holdup, I could not start for an additional two weeks. I remember those two weeks, sitting at home, with absolutely nothing to do. Even though I was not unemployed, I may as well have been. It was absolutely miserable for me. I hated it. I cannot imagine the psyche of people whose mental health improves by not working. I don’t know, perhaps I am an anomaly.