Hate your job in your 20s? You’ll feel the health effects by the time you’re 40, study warns

Do what you love and you won’t work a day in your life, the old adage goes. But what if you hate your job?

New research suggests that a lousy job in your 20s and 30s will catch up with your health much earlier than you may think, with the detrimental effects seeping in by your 40s.

Scientists out of Ohio State University say that job satisfaction in your early career plays a major role in your long-term health. Just a decade or so after landing that crummy job, you could have trouble sleeping, grapple with mental health issues and face back pain or chronic colds more often than your peers who started their careers on a happy note.

“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,” Dr. Hui Zheng, a sociology professor and study co-author, said.

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

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The study was led by Jonathan Dirlam, a doctoral student in sociology. Dirlam and Zheng presented their findings Monday at the annual American Sociological Association.

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For their research, the team looked at the job satisfaction trajectories for more than 6,400 people between 25 and 39. The data came from a national U.S. longitudinal study that followed Americans. They had to rate how much they liked their jobs on a scale of one to four.

After they turned 40, the study participants had to report on a handful of health measures.

Turns out, 45 per cent of people consistently disliked their jobs with about 23 per cent of people who felt their job satisfaction dip in their early years.

About 15 per cent of people were consistently happy with their careers and 17 per cent found job satisfaction along the way.

The researchers looked at the health of those who were happiest with their jobs next to those who were miserable.

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The unhappy group scored worse on all mental health measures – they had higher levels of depression, sleep problems and “excessive worry.” They were more likely to be diagnosed with emotional problems, too.

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Dissatisfaction at a job early on even led to more back pain and catching colds compared to people who were happiest with their employment. But doctor-diagnosed health problems like diabetes and cancer stayed the same among the two groups.

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If people started out with job satisfaction that slowly tapered out, they also encountered sleepless nights and anxiety.

One in three Canadians are classified as high risk for a mental health issue, with stress and depression as major concerns, according to a 2015 Ipsos poll.

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When asked if they’ve ever felt depressed to the point of feeling hopelessness almost every day for weeks at a time, 15 per cent of Canadians conceded that this happened to them several times that year. Seventeen per cent said it happened to them at least once, too.

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Another 30 per cent of Canadians said that stress was also eating away at their daily lives. Twenty-two per cent of those polled said it happened at least once.

In 17 per cent of Canadians, the stress became so overwhelming they felt like they couldn’t cope or deal with the situation a handful of times throughout the year.

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