A set of findings from a decades-long study have been released and they appear to suggest that low or declining job satisfaction early in a person’s career has correlations to various aspects of mental health down the line.
The researchers, from Ohio State University, used information from the 6,432 Americans who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in 1979. The survey followed these individuals, who started at ages 14 to 22, and got updates periodically. For the Ohio researchers, they focused on the progression of the job satisfaction measurement that was taken for those aged 25 to 39, as well as the health measures that these individuals reported once they turned 40.
The metric in question was a single question about how much the participant liked their job, as measured on a one (dislike very much) to four (like very much) scale. The researchers grouped the participants under one of four categories: consistently low (45%), consistently high (15%), started high but trended downwards (23%), and started low but trended upwards (17%). The “consistently high” group was used as a baseline for comparisons.
It was found that certain mental health problems showed the highest correlation with how people felt about their jobs. The persistently low group scored worse on all of the mental health measures that the study evaluated such as levels of depression, sleep problems, and excessive worry. The trending downward group also showed increased trouble sleeping and excessive worry, but didn’t show an impact on depressive scores. Those whose satisfaction was trending upwards did not show any health problems by comparison.
When physical problems were looked at, the low and trending downwards group reported more issues like colds or back pain. More specific health problems that would require a doctor’s diagnoses (diabetes, cancer, etc.) did not show any difference. Much like with mental health, the trending upwards group did not show any effects in this area.
The idea that a lousy job could have an effect on someone’s mental health is not new, but science works best when it has hard information to work with. Unfortunately, this study does have its flaws. Aside from the inherent limitations of surveys, the one-to-four scale presented some difficulties with grouping the participants.
The “consistently low” group, for instance, had an average score fairly close to a three, or “likes their job fairly well”. The study also only looked at health effects at age 40 and could not account for any later influences or effects of a healthy or unhealthy lifestyle. It also cannot suggest that if a connection exists, whether the job satisfaction influenced the mental health or if the mental health influenced job satisfaction.
On the plus side, the study’s data collection was able to finish before the 2008 financial crash, meaning the results wouldn’t have been thrown off by the Great Recession.
Grabmeier, J., “Lousy jobs hurt your health by the time you’re in your 40s,” Ohio State University web site, August 22, 2016; https://news.osu.edu/news/2016/08/22/lousy-jobs/, last accessed August 22, 2016.