It’s hard to decide what to do when one finds themselves out of work. It is our natural reaction to stress and experience anxiety over our futures, what to do immediately, and how to go about seeking a new job. It’s also our natural reaction to jump at any opportunity that presents itself in order to preserve our way of life, and provide a financially secure future. However, research has shown that some opportunities just aren’t worth jumping for. In fact, some job opportunities can actually increase one’s stress and depression, or even bring on depression in individuals that weren’t previously experiencing it.
A March 2011 CNN report cited research indicating that demoralizing and menial jobs can actually be “worse for mental health than not working at all.” Researchers explained this phenomena by asking participants to rate their mental health associated with their work situation. This research found that participants who felt “overwhelmed, insecure about their employment, underpaid, and micromanaged” all measured poorly in mental health, even experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety for which even jobless individuals fared better (McMillen, 2011). This is shocking considering the fact that depression has been linked to unemployment (Colorado State University, 2008). So, for individuals with a job to rank lower on mental health measures than the unemployed certainly seems to suggest that we should be taking a bit more time in choosing a new job, instead of jumping at the first opportunity available.
So why aren’t we able to do just any job and find satisfaction in the paycheck coming in? Well, this question requires a much more complex answer. Many people, regardless of the type of job, find some level of identity in their position. Even minimum wage jobs provide an individual some sort of identity, and a group with which to fit into. When a person loses a job, it’s almost like losing a piece of one’s identity (Pagan, 2010). Taking on a new job, one is already in a place where they have to cope and learn new responsibilities, new people, and new rules. McMillen (2011) reports that a new work environment may be the biggest trigger for depression in the workplace, and that bad bosses are one of the biggest triggers for unhappiness. Thus, it can be that the same work satisfaction is not there, and that people unhappy with their new jobs are facing an incongruence between their former, satisfying positions; and their new work situation. This may be especially true for individuals used to being up at the top of their company, or in managerial positions.
It could also have to do with the nature of the work. Worth (N.d) examined this very issue and compiled a list of jobs with high depression rate prevalence. On the list are: nursing home and child care workers, food service staff, social workers, health care workers, artists/entertainers/writers, teachers, administrative support staff, maintenance and ground workers, and financial advisors and accountants (Worth, N.d). Find it odd that a grounds keeper is near the bottom of the top ten, while nursing home care and food service workers are at the top? Work satisfaction has a lot to do with how a personal fares mentally. Worth (N.d) notes that nursing home care is difficult due to the often degrading sense of the work (even though you’re helping someone); and food service is often thankless, with a number of people ordering you around. Both of these fit McMillen’s (2011) findings that sometimes having a job can be more trying on one’s mental health than not. Furthermore, industries like food service are often sought out when one loses a job and their own industry is on the downside of the economy. Moving from one job where one is fired, to a job with low satisfaction levels is sure to make anyone frustrated.
It’s hard to say no to an opportunity when you’re watching your bank account go down and down, and you can see no way in sight to make that change. However, in light of research surrounding job satisfaction, perhaps it’s best to focus one’s energy on positive job outlooks, and not just the first thing that comes our way.
Colorado State University (2008). The Human Side of Agriculture: Managing Tough Times. Department of Human Development & Family Studies.
McMillen, M. (2011). For Mental Health, Bad Job Worse Than No Job. CNN Health.
Pagan, C.N. (2010). Surviving Long-Term Unemployment. Forbes.
Worth, T. (N.d). 10 Careers with High Rates of Depression. Health.com.