Job Insecurity Worse for Health than Unemployment

March 17, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Europe & Middle East | Men | Pharma & Healthcare | Women

Workers? who already have lost their jobs in the current economic downturn may be better off healthwise than those who are constantly worrying that the axe could fall any moment, according to research from the University of Cambridge.

The study, which assessed UK participants’ mental health levels using a general health questionnaire, found that the stress and anxiety levels of people who had become unemployed eventually “bottomed out” after about six months as they adapted to their new circumstances.

In contrast, people who had not lost their jobs but were constantly worried about doing so suffered long, “slow-burn” declines in their mental health that dragged on and worsened steadily over one to two years or longer.

“People seem not to be able to develop coping mechanisms for job insecurity as they do for unemployment,”? said Brendan Burchell, who conducted the study. “This means that people who have been in an insecure job for over a year continue to show a decline in their mental health.”

Men Hit Harder than Women

Though an earlier poll revealed that women are more likely than men to say they are anxious and depressed about losing their job, Burchell’s research suggests that even though they put on a braver face, men are actually more likely to become – and show more signs of being – more depressed and anxious than women.

For example, when unemployed men move into insecure jobs, they show no improvement in their psychological health, according to the study. But for unemployed women, even insecure jobs restore their psychological health.

The disparity between what men say and what is actually happening inside can be explained by cultural norms. “In part there is a macho issue about men being the breadwinner,” Burchell said. “Men, unlike women, have few positive ways of defining themselves outside of the workplace between when they leave school and when they retire. Despite several decades of more equal employment opportunities for men and women, men retain traditional beliefs that their masculinity is threatened if their employment is threatened.”

The study recommends that particular attention should be paid to the psychological well-being of workers as the recession drags on, because the “social ills” resulting from greater stress and anxiety are likely to be worse in a year’s time than they are now.

“Given that most economic forecasts predict that the recession will be long with a slow recovery, the results mean that many people – and men in particular – could be entering into a period of prolonged and growing misery,” Burchell said.

About the study: The research was conducted by Brendan Burchell from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Sociology, who analyzed the results of a study of more than 300 UK employees as well as data from the British Household Panel Survey, an ESRC-funded survey of thousands of people which has been charting the effects of social and economic change since 1991.

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