Healthy living

Bad job as harmful as no job at all

Wrong job as harmful as no job at all Same impact on mental health

Being in a temporary job or one which is badly paid can be as harmful to your mental health as being unemployed, a new study suggests.

Having a job is generally associated with better physical and mental health, and the mental health of unemployed people tends to improve once they start work again.

However, researchers at The Australian National University in Canberra decided to look at the effect of poor quality jobs on mental health. These included jobs which were either highly demanding, poorly supported, low paid or with poor job security.

The researchers analysed data from more than 7,000 people of working age taken from a national household survey carried out in Australia every year.

Participants underwent a mental health assessment. If in work, their job was graded according to how demanding it was, the level of complexity involved and perceived job security.

The participants were also asked if they felt they were paid a fair wage for the work they did.

As expected, overall, people who were unemployed had poorer mental health compared to their counterparts in work.

Those in the poorest quality jobs experienced the sharpest decline in mental health over time.

In fact, the mental health of those who were jobless was comparable or even better than that of people in the poorest quality jobs.

This remained true after other factors which could influence the findings were taken into account, such as educational attainment and marital status.

Finding a job after a period of unemployment improved mental health, but this was dependent on the quality of job, the researchers said.

Writing in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the authors said: “Work first policies are based on the notion that any job is better than none as work promotes economic as well as personal wellbeing.

"This study has shown that work of poor psychosocial quality, characterised by low job control, high job demands and complexity, job insecurity and the perception of unfair pay, does not bestow the same mental health benefits as employment in jobs with high psychosocial quality.

"In fact, we found that moving from unemployment to a job with poor psychosocial quality was associated with a significant decline in mental health relative to remaining unemployed."

This article was published on Tue 15 March 2011

Image © konradbak -

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