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Build Your Career Get Ahead

Hate Your Job? It May Affect Your Mental Health Down the Road

Hate Your Job? It May Affect Your Mental Health Down the Road
Credit: Baranq/Shutterstock

If you hate your job in your 20s and 30s, you may be at risk for mental-health problems in your 40s, new research suggests.

The Ohio State University study revealed that people who had low job satisfaction early in their career were more likely to have mental health issues later on. Specifically, those who said they weren't happy in their jobs in their 20s and 30s ended up being less happy and more worried, and had more trouble sleeping at age 40, compared with people who reported higher job satisfaction in their 20s and 30s.

"We found that there is a cumulative effect of job satisfaction on health that appears as early as your 40s," Jonathan Dirlam, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student in sociology at The Ohio State University, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers used data from 6,432 Americans who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, which followed adults who were between the ages of 14 and 22 when the survey began in 1979. The study's authors analyzed job satisfaction trajectories for people ages 25 to 39, as well as aspects of their health and mental health after they turned 40. [See Related Story: Want Healthier Employees? Treat Them Fairly]

The participants were placed into one of four categories: those who had consistently low job satisfaction, those with consistently high job satisfaction, those whose happiness was trending downward or those whose happiness was trending upward over the years. Of those studied, about 45 percent had consistently low job satisfaction, and 23 percent had levels that were trending downward through their early career. About 15 percent were consistently happy in their jobs, and about 17 percent were trending upward.

The results showed that the people who reported consistently low job satisfaction had higher levels of depression, sleep problems and excessive worrying. Additionally, they were more likely to have been diagnosed with emotional problems and score lower on a test of overall mental health.

Hui Zheng, one of the study's authors and an associate professor at Ohio State, said the results highlight the importance that early jobs have on people's lives. 

"You don't have to be near the end of your career to see the health impact of job satisfaction, particularly on your mental health,” Zheng said.

Participants whose job happiness trended downward were also more likely to experience mental health issues, but the link was not as strong as it was in people who were consistently unhappy with their jobs. People whose job satisfaction started out high but declined over time were more likely than those whose contentment remained high the entire time to worry excessively and have trouble sleeping. However, people whose job satisfaction trended downward were not more likely to have higherdepression scores or a higher probability of being diagnosed with emotional problems.

This link was not seen in people whose job satisfaction trended upward early in their careers.

The researchers also found a link between job satisfaction early in people's careers and physical health, although it was not as pronounced as that between job satisfaction and mental health. People who were not happy at all in their careers and those whose happiness declined over the years were found to have more minor physical problems, such as back pain or frequent colds, compared with people in the other groups. However, job satisfaction early in one's career was not linked with differences in physical functioning or doctor-diagnosed health problems such as diabetes and cancer.

However, it's possible that these health issues could appear later on in people who were unhappy with their jobs, the researchers said.

"The higher levels of mental health problems for those with low job satisfaction may be a precursor to future physical problems," Zheng said. "Increased anxiety and depression could lead to cardiovascular or other health problems that won't show up until they are older."

The research was presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.