Tag Archives: unemployment

Unemployment better than holding a poor quality job?

Of course in financial terms, its always better to hold a ‘poor quality’ (we will define that term soon) job than being unemployed, especially in countries like India where there are no unemployment benefits; but the above question is posed in the context of your health….especially your mental health.

Its a well established dogma that unemployment is bad for mental health and those who lose a job are at risk of mental health problems. As compared to being unemployed, being employed is considered good for your mental health mainly due to  ‘higher income and access to resources, having a defined social role and purpose,  access to social support and networks, and time structure.’

However, one stream of research by Butterworth et al believes that we might have overlooked the crucial importance of  psychosocial quality of work when trying the disentangle the effects of employment and mental health. In particular they contest that while high quality jobs do provide the salutary benefits associated with being in the workforce, poor psychosocial quality jobs lead to worse outcomes  in terms of mental health than being or remaining unemployed.

Quick, answer these questions:

  1. Does your job place high demands on you and is complex/ stressful?
  2.  Do you lack control over your work or suffer from lack of autonomy?
  3. Do you feel insecure about your continued employment or job prospects?
  4. Do you get paid fairly for your work?

Assuming you are employed, the more you answered affirmatively to the above questions the more likely you are to be in a poor psychosocial quality job. The job may be paying you well and may come with all types of benefits but if you think (and if indeed it is the case) that your job is high on demand, low on control, low on security and low on perceived fair wage then that job is not good for your mental health.

As per longitudinal research done by Butterworth et al, there are many interesting relations between job status (being employed/ unemployed) and mental health.  For eg., being in a high quality job has the maximum benefits for mental health, followed by unemployment and the poor psychosocial quality jobs come last in terms of mental health.  They also looked at transitions. If you were unemployed and took up a low psychosocial quality job, say just to make ends meet , then your mental health is likely to go down. They didn’t look at the reverse transition, but perhaps one can assume that if someone was stuck in a poor quality job and became unemployed, then perhaps he/ she may get  a boost in mental health.

Why is this important? Given that economic demands and needs necessitate many to remain stuck in low quality jobs over unemployment, how can this new found knowledge help us? For starters, they can make more informed choices and decisions and be aware of what they are trading in for if they take a job or remain stuck in a job with poor pscyhosocial quality. Some may legitimately prefer a period of unemployment over such poor quality jobs especially if their mental health is at risk; while others who are indeed stuck in poor quality jobs can take more proactive measures to move to high quality jobs or take proactive steps to take care of their mental health.

More important are implications for leaders, managers, employers and policy makers. For policy makers and entrepreneurs, the current short sighted thinking that any type of job is better than unemployment has to be replaced with a more nuanced understanding that some features of good psychoscocial quality jobs are also to be emphasized over blind creation of new jobs.

Most important implications are for leaders and managers. What distinguishes a poor psychosocial quality job from a  high quality job are all psychological features that can be controlled. Managers and leaders can design and craft  jobs for their employees such that there is optimal fit between capabilities and job demands;  there is sufficient autonomy over what ,where, how and with whom to work; hiring is done realistically and with restraint so that there is enough perceived job security and lastly rewards are structured and made transparent in a manner that there is perceived equity in distribution of rewards (which is hard to achieve when CEO’s take a fat payout while layoffs are in progress in a firm).

The bottom line is that given the immense mental health costs of poor psychosocial work, which spirals into poor bottom line results for the organization,  it is a duty of all leaders and employers to ensure that work experience is of as high psychosocial quality as possible. Its not just good for the company its also the morally right thing to do.

So all you entrepreneurs out there, go ahead create jobs, but create jobs that lead to better mental health for all!