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Having a Bad Job Can Be Worse Than None At All

Having a Bad Job Can Be Worse Than Being UnemployedAlthough in the current economy being unemployed feels like the worst thing in the world, researchers have found something even worse — being stuck in a bad job.

Australian National University researchers have found that, from a mental health perspective, you may be better off being unemployed rather than being in a bad job.

The work was undertaken by researchers from the Centre for Mental Health Research, led by Liana Leach, Ph.D.

Using data from the 20-year Personality and Total Health (PATH) Through Life Project, the team looked at the mental health effects of being in a “bad job” – a job with low security, high stress and little control. The results, Leach said, were significant.

“Our research had two main findings. First, we found that those in poor quality jobs had poorer mental health than those in good quality work. People who were in a bad job were five times more likely to be categorised as depressed and twice as likely to be categorised as anxious than those in good quality work.

“Second, over time, those who moved from being unemployed into poor quality work actually experienced a greater decline in their mental health than those who remained unemployed,” she said.

The study examined the effect of several adverse work conditions on an individual’s mental health, rather than looking at the effect of specific roles or occupations.

The researchers examined results from a national household survey conducted over seven years of more than 7,000 people living in Australia.

Job quality was graded based on four factors: stress and level of demand, amount of control employees said they had over their work, job security (or potential for a future) and whether or not the pay was fair.

Participants also filled out a mental health questionnaire that assessed symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as positive emotions, such as feelings of happiness and calm.

After taking into account possibly confounding factors that could influence the findings, such as an individual’s age, gender, marital status and level of education, the mental health of unemployed individuals was on par with, or better than, the mental health of those with poor-quality jobs.

Those with the poorest-quality jobs showed a greater drop in mental health over time compared with those who were unemployed.

“In our study, a bad job, or poor quality job, was one where people perceived their job was insecure, perhaps because they were on a short-term contract or casual work, they had high job demands or a heavy workload, and they didn’t have much control over how they managed that workload. They also felt that it would be difficult to gain another similar job, suggesting they felt trapped in their current workplace,” said Leach.

The results indicate that, for employers, one of the keys to happy and mentally healthy employees is to keep an eye on these negative factors and work with staff to find solutions.

Leach said the study suggests it would be best for employers to be open to negotiation with employees about their work conditions – making sure employees have reasonable workloads and some control over how they manage this workload is likely to produce employees with better mental health.

“For their part, employees might like to negotiate with employers to see if they can make their workplace one that benefits their wellbeing and mental health.

“Everybody has moments in their jobs where it’s difficult and you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, but we hope this study helps to improve people’s workplace environments so that we can improve their mental health too,” said Leach.

Source: The Australian National University

Having a Bad Job Can Be Worse Than None At All

Psych Central News Editor

The Psych Central News Editor is a member of the Psych Central staff with background in journalism and mental health reporting. This is a rotating position, but is filled with a qualified reporter with appropriate psychology and mental health news experience.

APA Reference
News Editor, P. (2018). Having a Bad Job Can Be Worse Than None At All. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 15 Mar 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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