Jobs that are a danger to mental health

Recent research by the Australian National University has questioned the long accepted wisdom that being in a job is better for people’s mental health than being unemployed. It seems that having a bad job can be worse for you than no job at all. As unemployment reaches its highest for 17 years in Britain, this raises important questions for policy makers and employers alike.

The research was based on evidence collected since 2001, and measured people’s levels of anxiety, depression, happiness and calm, to give a score for each individual in times of employment and unemployment. Unemployed people showed an increase in their scores of 3.3 when they got a good job, and a decrease of 5.6 when they got a bad job, whereas staying unemployed showed a decrease in their score of 1.

So what is a good or bad job? The research identified four factors within a job – its complexity and demand, how much control the individual has, how fair the individual considers their pay to be and how secure the individual feels in the job. So good jobs are where the individual is happy with all these factors.

Bad jobs therefore are where the job does not fit the skills, abilities and values of the individual. Employees don’t feel that they have enough control, they do not consider that their pay is fair and they do not feel secure. The implication of this research is that policy makers cannot simply assume that getting people into work, any work, will prevent mental health problems. Care needs to be taken to match the individual with the job or things could in fact become worse for them.

The research also throws light on the thousands of people who are in jobs where they feel undervalued, not listened to, out of their depth and even bullied. Their mental health may be more at risk than those out of work. Employers need to be more aware and proactive than ever as regards the mental health of their staff. In the current economic climate people are staying in jobs which they would like to leave, as they don’t have the confidence of finding another job to hand in their notice when things get really tough. The Australian study showed 82% of workers would be open to offers of a new job if it came along.

This post was written by Charlie Damonsing of CLAssociates. CLAssociates specialises in helping businesses manage stress in the workplace, providing consultancy, training and 1-2-1 support. For further details please contact Charlie on 0771 559 6487.