Job Satisfaction and the Urge to Label Everything

A new report has come out that sheds further light on the psychology of employment. Previous studies have shown that unemployed people experience more depression, stress, and anxiety than people who have jobs. This is hardly surprising: the financial burdens of unemployment provoke constant worry about feeding family members and making mortgage payments. But this new research, from the Centre for Mental Health Research at The Australian National University, suggests that a poor quality job is worse, mental health wise, than no job at all. Poor quality jobs include those that put high levels of strain on employees, are at risk of being cut, or have no prospect for future advancement.

When comparing based on employment situation, people in poor quality jobs had the highest rates of depression, and this makes sense. When we feel we’ve accomplished something worthwhile, as in a satisfying job, we feel proud of ourselves. When unemployed, we feel we’re just not being given the chance to accomplish things. But a bad job takes away the “what if” and replaces it with a roadblock to that sense of accomplishment.

Certainly this study bears on discussions of employment issues, but it’s also relevant to the world of psychology: to therapists, counselors, psychotherapists, and anyone who has been or is a client. summed up the story as such: “Satisfying job leads to better mental health.” While prolonged lack of professional satisfaction can certainly lead to depression, it’s not depression alone that’s worth talking about. Dissatisfaction in itself, and the doubt, self-esteem issues, and life questions that come out of it, is tremendously viable as a topic of self-reflection and of therapy. So many of the things that we think about and struggle with do not have (or at least do not need) official labels: spiritual quandaries, unresolved family issues, personal vocation, personal fears. Do we need to diagnose these as stress or depression or something else with an official title? No. But does it help to talk these things through with a counselor? Absolutely.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • gomes

    October 19th, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    this could not have come at a better time for me. my soon-to-be-former job is just too stressful and this has led me to a lot of tension and mental stress. shifting next week and I feel happy about it already :)

  • Laura

    October 20th, 2010 at 4:45 AM

    So I totally get that being unhappy with your job can cause higher rates of depresssion, and that those who are unemployed experience higher depression rates as well. Got it. But what I do not get are those people who are so down and out because they allow their jobs and who they are within those jobs to define who and what they are. Where I work and what I do in that venue for me are never going to define who I am. It is not going to value or devalue my self worth or any other way that I think about myself. Why get so tied up in this identity? If you love your job, then great. If you hate it, then find something else. I know that these are tough times but eventually the bounce will come and more jobs will be available. Don’t sit back waiting for something better to come along- go make it happen. And when it does think about how good that is going to make you feel then.

  • GoLdEnDuCk

    October 20th, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    I can’t think of ONE person who is happy with his/her job…there are always complaints…And this includes me…I don’t know why…maybe its just that we always FIND problems with something where we need to put in an effort…maybe that’s how we are built…?!

  • Colin

    October 20th, 2010 at 3:22 PM

    It is very stressful to be in a job where you see no room for maneuver. And it’s easy to say just leave and find another one. Nothing is that simple when you have responsibilities. I’ve been in my job for four and a half years and hated the monotony of it from about a month after I started. I’m too smart to do what I do (entry level call center position) and nobody notices.

  • Wanderer

    October 20th, 2010 at 6:23 PM

    The best way to avoid responsibility is to say, “I’ve got responsibilities.” – Richard Bach.

  • Callie

    October 20th, 2010 at 8:31 PM

    While I don’t think we have to label absolutely everything, I feel it does help to have a frame of reference, however shaky its foundations may be. Even if all that does is give the therapist, friend or partner an insight into where you’re coming from when you share with them the labels you attach to yourself, it’s better than nothing.

  • aidan

    October 21st, 2010 at 3:51 PM

    Well said, Wanderer.

    @Colin: Take charge of your life. Study, educate yourself, learn presentation skills and how to get yourself a resume to a stage where companies will vy for your attention and management can’t resist you. You will find the job offers will pour in. Everyone has responsibilities. It’s a fact of life, not an excuse for stagnation.

  • Faith

    October 21st, 2010 at 4:53 PM

    When you label anything, you are risking that the convenience of having a label will overcome any harm that could be done by putting something or someone in a neat little box. Not everything can be so cleanly packaged, especially people.

    Handing them a label can mean society sees the label first and the person second. The depressed woman, the suicidal teenager, the bipolar daughter: which word grabs the average person first?

  • Millie

    October 21st, 2010 at 5:32 PM

    If poor job quality is classed as “… those that put high levels of strain on employees, are at risk of being cut, or have no prospect for future advancement”, that just about covers 95% of the working population in this globally depressed economy. No wonder we’re all at each other’s throats.

  • Ian

    October 22nd, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    All these complainers need to be kicked to the kerb by their employers. There are unemployed men and women out there that would take on their allegedly poor quality jobs in a heartbeat.

  • Zoey

    October 22nd, 2010 at 6:26 PM

    Agreed. Your boss doesn’t owe you a fabulous job. If you don’t like it, resign and go retrain or get hired elsewhere so you can do the work you want to do. If you don’t have the guts for that and/or can bear the job you have, quit whining and stop making the work environment a negative one for all your workmates that have to listen to you. I can’t stand Moaning Minnies.

  • soldy

    October 22nd, 2010 at 8:58 PM

    So you have a poor quality job. So what? You turn up and you get paid. What’s not to like about that? You’re luckier than a lot of people in this economy. Appreciate your job and how beneficial having it is to you and your family. Trust me, if you got fired tomorrow, suddenly it will look a whole lot rosier a job than it ever did when you were there.

  • Joanna

    October 24th, 2010 at 7:19 PM

    At first glance it doesn’t make sense to feel worse in a dead-end job than you do when you’re unemployed. When I thought about it more, I could see why. You see that dead-end job stretching out in front of you for the rest of your life. When you’re unemployed, you hold onto the hope of finding a good one. You still have a little optimism. When you’re in a dead-end job, and you see that fact alone as not a good enough reason to pack it in (you’ve got bills to pay, right?), you abandon hope instead and resign yourself to a working man’s 9-5 version of hell.

  • Tony J.

    October 27th, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    Exactly! You feel you are trapped in that cubicle just as much as you would be if it had a jail cell’s steel bars. I can’t afford to take time off nor the chance that a new job would be month’s away. Two months without pay is all it would take to cripple my family and I. I also couldn’t give up their health insurance plan. It’s too generous to cast aside.

  • teresa

    October 27th, 2010 at 11:34 AM

    Wake up man! You have work and a health plan. Consider yourself blessed. I don’t have either.

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