In popular culture the notion of an undesirable employment situation having a negative impact on one’s health is common. We have all heard friends and colleagues say, “that job is going to kill me” or “my boss is driving me crazy.” People the world over spend so much time at work that work is often highly associated with self-identity. Research is increasingly finding our popular notions are indeed true. A bad job can kill you, make you feel depressed and sometimes physically ill.
These is an extensive body of research looking at labor force participation and men lacking a college degree. Purportedly, a significant percentage of men lacking a college degree would rather have no job than a bad job, which many feel is all they can get without career training. The marriage market for such men is reduced, while substance abuse is higher. Those with a college degree or career training that is not well matched to the job market can also suffer the effects of a job that doesn’t pay their bills or they feel is beneath them.
The journal Health Affairs published a brief about the relationship between underemployment and its effects on physician and mental health.
Compelling theory and a growing body of empirical research point toward a relationship between underemployment and reduced health and well-being, particularly when such underemployment is in the form of involuntary part-time work.
Underemployment is often shiftwork that pays hourly, when workers can’t get enough hours to work full time.
Underemployment is disproportionately concentrated among workers who are paid hourly, have precarious work schedules or relatively low family incomes, are members of vulnerable demographic groups, and are employed in certain industries such as leisure and health services.
Underemployment negatively affects health status in ways that are not well understood.
Why and how might being underemployed lead to relatively poorer health? The literature to date has not established these mechanisms definitively, but it has identified several possible pathways linking underemployment and reduced well-being: inadequacy of income and economic hardship, and psychosocial consequences of poor job quality, particularly involuntariness and precarity.
Poor job quality features also likely have an impact on health and well-being through increased stress and reduced pleasure at work. In particular, more irregular and unstable weekly hours and less predictable timing or control over work schedules constrain not only income but also the time needed to plan or engage in enjoyable leisure activities. In addition, dissatisfaction and discouragement related to a perceived imbalance in the effort-reward ratio, particularly in part-time jobs, can be seen as a breach of the psychological contract between employer and employee, leading to both mental and physical health complaints. In fact, job quality features, such as meeting the psychological need for meaningful work, autonomy, competence, and social relationships, may actually dwarf the effects of experiencing reduced income on psychological distress among those who are underemployed. Finally, there may be negative psychosocial effects related to the threat to self-esteem and morale, the loss of skill application and social interaction, and perceived mistreatment or status loss in the workplace, as well as the household or community.
Recent studies into the relationship between unemployment, underemployment, poor working conditions and their effects on mental and physical health should come as no surprise. Of course having a job you dislike makes you feel bad. Feeling bad mentally can make you feel bad physically. Is there a role for government in mollifying the effects of bad jobs? None that I can think of. The best career advice is probably parents who lead by example and offer candid advice to their children.