How Staying in a Job You Hate Affects Your Mental Health

Published on: 10 Jan 2018
man with head in hands across from boss

When it comes to your career, there is nothing worse than a job you hate, literally.

According to a University of Manchester study, having a “poor quality” job — a job you hate — is actually worse for your mental health than having no job at all. It may sound hard to believe until you’ve been there — hostile co-workers, a passive-aggressive boss, or mind-numbing assignments. Not to mention we often spend 40 or more hours a week invested in our job, and that’s a lot of time to spend in a bad situation.

For the 51% of Americans employed full-time who reported to Gallup in 2017 that they’re uninterested in their jobs and the 16% who dislike their workplace, staying at a job you hate is bad news for your mental health. Here’s why.

Worsening Mental Health Symptoms

Whether you already deal with a mental health issue or not, staying in a work scenario you hate has mental health consequences, especially when you feel obligated to stay.

Research from the Human Relations journal, as Business News Daily reports, found that those who stayed at companies because they felt obligated or couldn’t find other job opportunities were more likely to experience exhaustion, stress, and burnout. In addition, “this feeling of indebtedness and a loss of autonomy are emotionally draining over time,” per one of the study’s researchers. All of these factors lead directly to mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

With a pre-existing mental health condition, a job you hate can seem even more dire.

“If you’re constantly miserable at work, of course that’s going to affect your mental health,” says Sarah Schewitz, a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist. “If you already have a more negative outlook on life because you’re feeling depressed, or more fearful outlook on life because you’re anxious, it’s completely amplified by being at a place that you despise on a daily basis.”

Delayed Mental Health Issues

The impact of hating your job may also follow you later in life. Ohio State University conducted a study that tracked the job satisfaction of people between ages 25-39, and then measured their health once they turned 40 years old.

What the study found was those who had low job satisfaction in their 20s and 30s were more susceptible to mental health issues later on, including higher levels of depression, sleep problems, and excessive worry. Those who had bad job experiences in their early careers also showed higher instances of diagnosed emotional problems and they scored lower on a test of overall mental health.

As we know, our mental health also affects our whole mind-body system, which the study’s authors also noted in their findings.

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

No Silver Lining

Our brains are naturally sticky for the negative, and that’s doubly true when you’re dealing with a mental illness. Some who are in less-than-ideal work conditions can find the silver lining in a bad scenario — considering their current position as a stepping stone to something better or being grateful to have a paycheck. It’s difficult to get to this place with a mental illness in the mix.

“It’s harder for people who have mental illness to manage this thought process around hating their job,” Schewitz intimates. “People with mental illness may have a harder time getting that theme, that silver lining, so it’s easier to go to a dark, negative place when you have mental illness. Your brain’s kind of primed for that.”

Difficulty Leaving a Bad Situation

Without seeing the silver lining in a job, it’s easier to get stuck there because mental illness just doesn’t allow for a path out. This means we’re more likely to stay in the bad situation because we can’t motivate ourselves to find alternatives.

“There’s a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness,” says Schewitz. “If you’re feeling hopeless and helpless then you’re often not motivated to change your situation [if you feel] that way about your job, and feel overwhelmed at the thought of even trying to get a new job.”

To get out of this mindset takes a herculean effort, one brought about by shifting our thoughts to a more active place find the motivation to move on.

“I would have them shift the way they’re thinking and remind themselves daily that they are not stuck,” Schewitz advises. “Even just shifting that perspective can be powerful.”

Fear of Getting Help

Considering all the mental health consequences of staying in a job you hate, it may be one of the best times to engage a mental health professional to achieve that perspective shift that will ultimately help you find your way to a better workplace. Not to mention, the extra support and validation a therapist can provide go a long way.

But according to Bustle, research shows that those who work “low quality” jobs and have a psychiatric disorder are less likely to seek assistance for their mental health, largely due to a fear of being fired because of the stigma. This can lead to feeling more trapped, hopeless, and helpless, feelings that prolong the time you’re left in a bad situation, which starts the cycle all over again.

While we know it isn’t as simple as just getting out when you have a job you hate — most of us do need a steady income — the mental health consequences of sticking around take a huge toll. If you’re in this situation, don’t be afraid to reach out for help, knowing you have the right to find a workplace that is life-affirming and supports your well-being.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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