Which Is Worse: A Bad Job or No Job?

You might think there’s nothing worse than being unemployed. Not only do you feel like you’re not contributing and using your talents, you’re also not making any money, which is stressful and even frightening as the bills pile up around you. Your self-esteem might start to drop when you can’t find work, and you get anxious as that gap in your resume widens. How are you going to explain that when you finally get an interview? At some point during unemployment, you think, “I’ll take any job right now. Even a bad one.”

Not so fast.

In 2011, CNN reported on in a study, which indicated a surprising trend:

“‘Moving from unemployment to a poor-quality job offered no mental health benefit, and in fact was more detrimental to mental health than remaining unemployed,’ says the lead author of the study, Peter Butterworth, Ph.D.”

Bad jobs in the construction, engineering, or environmental industries can share some of the following characteristics:

  • An unsafe working environment.
  • A manager or supervisor who is indecisive, manipulative, unavailable, or bad at communicating. This article notes that people who make bad bosses in the construction industry play favorites and don’t offer employees a path toward professional development and career advancement.
  • Low pay.
  • Monotonous, unchallenging tasks.
  • A heavy workload.
  • Lack of clear expectations for the job.
  • Lack of job security or not enough hours of work.

While everyone has a different level of tolerance for workplace politics and job demands, these characteristics, alone or in combination, can leave an employee stressed, disheartened, anxious, and frustrated. At the end of a long day of being micromanaged, overworked, or underappreciated, employees in bad jobs go home tired, unhappy, and unfulfilled. This mental drain can start to impact their personal lives, as well.

While unemployment carries its fair share of stress, we point out a distinct opportunity that a bad job rarely offers:

“Unemployment is stressful, but it still leaves room for possibilities. When you’re unemployed, you focus all of your efforts on finding a fulfilling position. Yet, when you’re working a dead-end job, you’re so depleted at the end of the day it’s difficult to begin thinking about the future… “

With unemployment, you have time and energy to devote to perfecting your skills and finding a good job, a job where you feel challenged, where your work is appreciated, and where you can move forward in your career.