Is a toxic workplace worse for your health than unemployment?

Uncategorized Jun 19, 2020

In his Mashable post "A bad job is harder on your mental health than unemployment," blogger Stephen Bevan argues that bad work can threaten employees' productivity, social inclusion, and even health. His ultimate question: are we actually better off working?

"Good work" and mental health

Bevan associates mental health with being engaged in "good work," or having "control, autonomy, challenge, variety, and task discretion." And results of a Household, Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey in Australia say that being out of work is a bad thing: bad for income, self-esteem, dignity, social inclusion, relationships, and health.

As logic follows, getting back to work would then be a good thing. But not so fast. It's not just any job that supports mental health. "Being in poor-quality work which, perhaps, is boring, routine, or represents underemployment or a poor match for the employee's skills is widely regarded as a good way for the unemployed to remain connected to the labor market — and to keep the work habit. But... data contradicts this. The HILDA data shows unambiguously that the psychosocial quality of bad jobs is worse than unemployment," says Bevan.

"Those who moved into optimal jobs showed significant improvement in mental health compared to those who remained unemployed. Those respondents who moved into poor-quality jobs showed a significant worsening in their mental health compared to those who remained unemployed," said Peter Butterworth, who published the HILDA data along with colleagues at the Australian National University.

So is unemployment better than work? If it's "good work," then no. But if it's bad work, then it's better for your mental health to be unemployed. Any job is not a good job.

What this news means for legislators

If "bad work," including workplace abuse, goes unaddressed:

It's a no-brainer that we need a law protecting employees from workplace abuse that results in mental health issues. 

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