Having a job you don’t like is more than just a drag: it might also be compromising your health.
Dissatisfaction with your job in your 20s and 30s can cause health issues 10 or 20 years later, according to a new study from the American Sociological Association. “We found that there is a cumulative effect of job satisfaction on health that appears as early as your 40s,” explained lead author Jonathan Dirlam, a PhD candidate in sociology at Ohio State University.
Dirlam and his research team study data from more than 6,000 participants in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which has followed health outcomes of participants going all the way back to 1979.
The research team examined the job satisfaction trajectories from age 25 to 39, and then compared that results with the health conditions reported by the same participants after they turned 40.
Their findings showed that people who were unhappy in their jobs early in their careers had higher rates of being prone to illness, especially mental health problems, in their 40s. They were more commonly depressed, had greater emotional issues and sleep problems, and experienced more anxiety.
Physical ailments were also more common. Those with low job satisfaction reported higher rates of issues like back pain and frequent colds compared to those who were more happy with their jobs.
“We found that those with lower job satisfaction levels throughout their late 20s and 30s have worse mental health compared to those with high job satisfaction levels,” Dirlam told CBS News. “Those who initially had high job satisfaction but downwardly decreased over time also had worse health.”
One of the study’s authors, Ohio State sociology professor Hui Zheng, said the findings show the importance that early jobs have on people’s lives and well-being in the decades that follow.
“You don’t have to be near the end of your career to see the health impact of job satisfaction, particularly on your mental health,” he said.
Zheng added that despite little evidence of difference in other health problems like cancer and diabetes, those issues might emerge later in life among those with lower job satisfaction levels.
“The higher levels of mental health problems for those with low job satisfaction may be a precursor to future physical problems,” he said. “Increased anxiety and depression could lead to cardiovascular or other health problems that won’t show up until they are older.”
The study, presented on Aug. 22 at an annual meeting of the ASA, supports earlier research that suggests a clear correlation between job satisfaction and health.
In a 2003 analysis of 485 studies on the problem, job satisfaction was strongly associated with psychological problems like depression, anxiety and general “burnout.” A modest link between job happiness and physical illness was also found.
Job satisfaction is “an important factor influencing the health of workers,” the authors of the study concluded.
“Organizations should include the development of stress management policies to identify and eradicate work practices that cause most job dissatisfaction as part of any exercise aimed at improving employee health,” the authors advised. “Occupational health clinicians should consider counselling employees diagnosed as having psychological problems to critically evaluate their work— and help them to explore ways of gaining greater satisfaction from this important aspect of their life.”
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