The more rigid or precarious your job is, the worse it can be for your health

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Jobs with rigid hours, little job security, no upward trajectory, and your future at the company constantly teetering on the brink isn’t just stressful – it affects your mental and overall health – even the likelihood of your being injured on the job says a new study from the University of Washington.

The terms and conditions of employment all have an effect on your health, researchers say.

“This research is part of a growing body of evidence that the work people do – and the way it is organized and paid for – is fundamental to producing not only wealth but health,” said senior author Noah Seixas, a UW professor of environmental and occupational health, in a release.

The study was published in September in the Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.

Researchers used data from the General Social Survey collected between 2001-2014 to create a “multidimensional measure” of how self-reported overall health, mental health, and occupational injury were associated with the quality of employment among 6,000 U.S. adults.

It’s all the pieces of the employment experience that matter, researchers say.

“Our study suggests that it is the different combinations of employment characteristics, which workers experience together as a package, that is important for their health,” first author Trevor Peckham, a UW doctoral student in environmental and occupational health sciences said.

The research is especially notable as traditional jobs give way to more tenuous contract and freelance work, followed by the even more precarious gig economy  – where workers seemingly have no set hours, little job security, and fluctuating and unstable pay – which is making increasing gains in the American economy.

Findings

Certain types of jobs were found to have negative effects on the overall and mental health of its workers.

  • Jobs without autonomy, unstable jobs. For example, people in so-called “dead-end” jobs like assembly-line workers who may be paid well because of unionization but have little autonomy, and workers in jobs that are precarious because they are contract positions or they cannot get full- time hours (janitors, retail workers, etc.) were more likely to report poor overall health as well as poor mental health than people occupying more conventional jobs. They were also more likely to be injured on the job.
  • Skilled, but inflexible jobs. Workers like doctors or military personnel do skilled work, but generally, work long hours with little flexibility. So do gig workers, Uber drivers, and the like. That group, like the above, also reported worse mental health as well as an increased chance of injury on the job as those working in standard employment setups.

However, job autonomy makes a difference in health. However, there was one exception of a worker who, although they were doing precarious work, still demonstrated similar health to people in conventional employment. Those people were called “optimistic precarious” workers, and they include service-sector workers, but ones with high empowerment and job autonomy, like florists.

Even those their jobs still included insecurity, low pay, and erratic hours, this was counterbalanced by having control over their schedules, an upward trajectory in development, and some say in decisions at work.