Does Being Unemployed Beat Having a Bad Job?: How the psychosocial qualities of an office impacts mental health

By Tanya, Wall Street Services Reporter

According to a study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, having a full-time, paid, 9-to-5 job may be worse than being unemployed altogether.

Researchers from the Centre for Mental Health Research at The Australian National University found to no surprise that unemployed respondents had poorer mental health than those who were employed. However, results also found that those who were unemployed had superior mental health to those in unhappy jobs of poor psychosocial quality.

The seven year study analyzed data from 7,155 respondents of working age. It also found  those who were formerly unemployed then hired to a poor quality job experienced more detrimental affects to mental health than those who remained on the unemployed list.

While the research aims to reveal the strong connection between the quality of a job and the state of an employee’s mental health, headlines and blogs seem to distort this study into the notion that having a bad job is worse than being unemployed. It is important commentators on this study emphasize the difference between high and low quality psychosocial working factors. Otherwise, a misleading headline about this study could lift the floodgates, encouraging distressed workers to call it quits for the sake of their mental health.

It is one thing to be subjected to an office that is clearly dangerous to mental health, be it due to workplace harassment, abuse or positions that place employees in high physical danger. It is quite another if the employee is simply sensitive to taking orders from higher-ups, bored from routine or…lacking artistic inspiration.

The study’s lead author notes people who couldn’t find a job had a healthier mental state of mind than people who were newly employed and felt “overwhelmed, insecure, underpaid and micromanaged.”

In this economy, it is important to count the blessings that come with a job, any job: steady income, stability, a structured lifestyle and a foot in a company that could provide future opportunities. Not to mention, it frees you from the need to explain a long unemployment gap in your resume during the next job interview. If you feel “overwhelmed,” then work smarter; if you feel “insecure,”  then muster up more workplace confidence, “underpaid,” then learn how to negotiate your salary and “micromanaged,” learn how to make your role more independent from colleagues and managers. And if your employer fails to acknowledge these efforts, then it is time to simply start hunting again! But lock in that job offer first.