Early job satisfaction has strong link to mental health

by L&D23 Aug 2016
The direction of your job satisfaction in your early career has an influence on your later health, claims a new study.

In particular, the study found job satisfaction in your late 20s and 30s has a link to overall health in your early 40s.

While job satisfaction had some impact on physical health, researchers found its effect was especially strong for mental health.

Those “less than happy” with their work early in their careers said they were more depressed, worried and struggled with sleep.

"The higher levels of mental health problems for those with low job satisfaction may be a precursor to future physical problems," said Hui Zheng, associate professor of sociology at The Ohio State University.

"Increased anxiety and depression could lead to cardiovascular or other health problems that won't show up until they are older."
On the other hand, people whose job satisfaction started low but improved over the course of their early career didn't have the health problems associated with consistently low or declining satisfaction.

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

Zheng said the results showed 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.

The researchers used data from 6,432 people who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, which followed adults who were between 14 and 22-years-old when the study started.

The researchers examined job satisfaction trajectories for people from age 25 to 39. These participants then reported a variety of health measures after they turned 40.

About 45% of participants had consistently low job satisfaction, while another 23% had levels that were trending downward through their early career.

Moreover, approximately 15% of people were consistently happy at their jobs and about 17% were trending upward.

Using those who were consistently happy as the reference, the researchers compared them to the health of the other three groups.

Mental health was found to be most affected by people's feelings about their jobs.

People who were in the low job satisfaction group throughout their early careers scored worse on all five of the mental health measures studied.

They reported higher levels of depression, sleep problems and worry. They were also more likely to have been diagnosed with emotional problems and scored lower on a test of overall mental health.

The physical health of those who were unhappy with their jobs wasn't impacted as much as mental health.

Those who were in the low satisfaction group and those who were trending downwards reported poorer overall health and more problems like back pain and frequent colds compared to the high satisfaction group.

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