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Here’s Scientific Proof You Should Quit Your Soul-Sucking Job

New research suggests that spending most of your time doing something you hate is bad for your health.

by Gabby Bess
Aug 22 2016, 8:36pm

Photo by Aleksandra Jankovic via Stocksy

A new study has confirmed what people who sit at a desk pretending to do meaningless work but are actually looking at internet articles like this have always suspected: Your job is making you depressed. You should quit! This is the end of this article.

Seriously, though, researchers from Ohio University, led by Jonathan Dirlam, have found that spending your 20s and 30s doing tasks that you hate, or merely tolerate, for a paycheck is bad for your mental health in the long-term. Their study looked at a subset of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), an ongoing survey that started in 1979. From that, Dirlam constructed job satisfaction trajectories for a portion of the participants that starts at age 25 and end at age 39. (Each year of the survey, participants were asked, "Overall how do you feel about your job?" and answered using a ratings scale.)

Read more: Your Work Emails Are Ruining Your Life

Four trajectories emerged: a high group (these smug people consistently liked their jobs); a downward group (these people liked their jobs and then started to slightly hate them); an upward group (like a Cinderella story); and a low group (these people never found a job they liked).

When Dirlam analyzed the different trajectories as they related to questions in the NLSY about mental and physical health, he found that people in the low trajectory group had an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and sleep problems at the age of 40. This makes sense: If you spend most of your day doing something you dislike, that is going to feel pretty bad. And while there was only a modest connection between job hatred and declining physical health, Dirlam says that this mental stress could "likely serve as a precursor to future physical health problems."

Grimly, the majority of people aren't feeling too good about their jobs: Over 44 percent of all people in the survey belonged to the low satisfaction group, and 23.5 percent fell into the downward group. Only 31.7 percent of people were in the high satisfaction groups.

We should look at the decline in job security as a public health issue.

When I asked Dirlam some questions about the study over email, he clarified that "even for the lowest job satisfaction group, on average, they are still somewhat satisfied with their job." Still, "this subtle distinction between satisfied and very satisfied has significant health effects."

Dirlam theorizes that workers' low satisfaction reflects the depressing state of our labor market, or at least our perception of it: low wages, eroding job security, robots replacing us entirely. In the study, he also notes that this data might even be overly optimistic: "Our analysis ends in the early 2000s before the Great Recession exacerbated this growing trend in job insecurity and dissatisfaction," he writes. "Newer data may find an even stronger downward trend in job satisfaction, resulting in additional deleterious health effects."

Bleak! This suggests that the solution isn't as simple as quitting the job you dislike and getting a new one; people feel stuck and without other options.

If the state of jobs in the US is literally making people sick, and underlying problems are possibly only getting worse, perhaps there needs to be a more holistic approach. Should we start thinking about the conditions of work as a public health issue?

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"We should look at the decline in job security as a public health issue," Dirlam told me. "This will no doubt increase stress and anxiety among people, and numerous studies have found increases in both to be detrimental to your health. When people weigh potential costs/benefits of increasing minimum wage, they should consider the potential increase in overall health as a major benefit."

In this same way, a universal basic income could theoretically also benefit workers—and society—if we're all healthier because of it. In an interview, the author of Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-Hour Workweek, Rutger Bregman, told Gawker that when a town in Canada experimented with the idea, "Kids performed better at school, healthcare expenditures plummeted, and people were able to spend more time on things that really mattered."

We don't have to wait until robots subsume our usefulness to implement such a policy—though that could be happening sooner than we think.