A person’s overall pattern of employment, including pay, hours, schedule flexibility and job security, influence mental and physical health as well as the risk of being injured on the job, according to new research.
“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 professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington.
According to researchers, technology and other forces are changing the nature of work. The traditional model of ongoing, full-time employment with regular hours and job security is giving way to gig-economy jobs, short-term contracts, nonstandard work hours, and flexible employer-worker relationships.
Current models for understanding this work are too simplistic, according to first author Trevor Peckham, a UW doctoral student in environmental and occupational health sciences. Studies of a single aspect of employment may not capture important elements of jobs that influence health, he noted.
“Employment relationships are complex,” he said. “They determine everything from how much you get paid, to how much control you have over your work schedule, your opportunities for advancement, and how much protection you have against adverse working conditions, like harassment.”
For the study, the researchers used data from the General Social Survey collected between 2002 to 2014 to create a multidimensional measure of how self-reported health, mental health, and occupational injury were associated with the quality of employment among approximately 6,000 US adults.
“There are many different forms of employment in the modern economy,” Peckham said. “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.”
- People employed in “dead-end” jobs — for example, manufacturing assembly line workers who are often well-paid and unionized but with little empowerment or opportunity — and “precarious” job holders — janitors or retail workers who work on short-term contracts and struggle to get full-time hours — were more likely to report poor general and mental health, as well as occupational injury compared to people with more traditional forms of employment.
- “Inflexible skilled” workers, such as physicians and military personnel, who have generally high-quality jobs but with long, inflexible hours, and “job-to-job” workers, such as Uber drivers, gig workers or the self-employed doing odd jobs, had worse mental health and increased injury experience compared to those with standard employment.
One of the most surprising findings, according to the researchers, was for “optimistic precarious” job holders, which includes service-sector workers with high empowerment, such as florists. The researchers found these workers had similar health to those in standard employment, despite having jobs characterized by insecurity, low pay, and irregular hours. However, these workers report high control over their schedules, opportunities to develop, and involvement in decision-making.
“Our research has direct implications for policy,” said co-author Anjum Hajat, a UW assistant professor of epidemiology. “As we have seen at the local level, Seattle City Council has been actively promoting policy solutions to improve workers’ lives.”
Those solutions include the secure scheduling ordinance, minimum wage, and family leave policies. These approaches show “the interest and appetite for change,” she said.
Researchers and policymakers must continue the dialogue with employers “to demonstrate the benefits of increased worker security and stability on employee turnover, productivity and, ultimately, their bottom line,” she said.
“Using policy and legal levers to influence how people are hired and treated at work can have profound effects on improving the health of workers and their communities,” Seixas added.
The study was published in the Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.
Source: University of Washington
Having a job and being employed is known to improve mental health and life satisfaction. A new study shows, however, that this benefit is achieved in much less than 40 hours a week.
The finding is pertinent as automation advances. Indeed, predictions of a jobless future have some fearing unrest from mass unemployment, while others imagine a more contented work-free society.
Nonetheless, aside from economic factors, paid employment brings other benefits — often psychological — such as self-esteem and social inclusion. In a new study, researchers at the universities of Cambridge and Salford sought to define a recommended “dosage” of work for optimal wellbeing.
Investigators examined how changes in working hours were linked to mental health and life satisfaction in over 70,000 UK residents between 2009 and 2018.
Researchers discovered that when people moved from unemployment or stay-at-home parenting into paid work of eight hours or less a week, their risk of mental health problems reduced by an average of 30 percent.
Yet researchers found no evidence that working any more than eight hours provided further boosts to wellbeing. The full-time standard of 37 to 40 hours was not significantly different to any other working time category when it came to mental health.
As such, they suggest that to get the mental wellbeing benefits of paid work, the most “effective dose” is only around one day a week — as anything more makes little difference.
The study appears in the journal Social Science and Medicine.
“We have effective dosage guides for everything from Vitamin C to hours of sleep in order to help us feel better, but this is the first time the question has been asked of paid work,” said study co-author Dr Brendan Burchell, a sociologist from Cambridge University.
“We know unemployment is often detrimental to people’s wellbeing, negatively affecting identity, status, time use, and sense of collective purpose. We now have some idea of just how much paid work is needed to get the psychosocial benefits of employment – and it’s not that much at all.”
Supporting the unemployed in a future with limited work is the subject of much policy discussion. However, researchers argue that employment should be retained across adult populations, but working weeks dramatically reduced for work to be redistributed.
“In the next few decades we could see artificial intelligence, big data and robotics replace much of the paid work currently done by humans,” said Salford University’s Dr Daiga Kamerāde, the study’s first author.
“If there is not enough for everybody who wants to work full-time, we will have to rethink current norms. This should include the redistribution of working hours, so everyone can get the mental health benefits of a job, even if that means we all work much shorter weeks.”
“Our findings are an important step in thinking what the minimum amount of paid work people might need in a future with little work to go round,” she said.
The study used data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study to track the wellbeing of 71,113 individuals between the ages of 16 and 64 as they changed working hours over the nine-year period. People were asked about issues such as anxiety and sleep problems to gauge mental health.
Researchers also found that self-reported life satisfaction in men increased by around 30 percent with up to eight hours of paid work, although women didn’t see a similar jump until working 20 hours.
They note that “the significant difference in mental health and wellbeing is between those with paid work and those with none”, and that the working week could be shortened considerably “without a detrimental effect on the workers’ mental health and wellbeing”.
The team offer creative policy options for moving into a future with limited work, including “five-day weekends”, working just a couple of hours a day, or increasing annual holiday from weeks to months — even having two months off for every month at work.
They also argue that working-hour reduction and redistribution could improve work-life balance, increase productivity, and cut down CO2 emissions from commuting. However, they point out that reduction of hours would need to be for everyone, to avoid increasing socioeconomic inequalities.
“The traditional model, in which everyone works around 40 hours a week, was never based on how much work was good for people. Our research suggests that micro-jobs provide the same psychological benefits as full-time jobs,” said co-author and Cambridge sociologist Senhu Wang.
“However, the quality of work will always be crucial. Jobs where employees are disrespected or subject to insecure or zero-hours contracts do not provide the same benefits to wellbeing, nor are they likely to in the future.”
Dr Burchell added: “If the UK were to plough annual productivity gains into reduced working hours rather than pay rises, the normal working week could be four days within a decade.”
Source: University of Cambridge