JOB SECURITY, IDENTITY AND WELLBEING
by Eva Selenko
Working on something meaningful and fulfilling, concentrating while the hours fly by and you are feeling creative and good about yourself – who doesn’t like that? Work psychologists call this state ‘eudaimonic happiness’: a state of positive meaningfulness and action. Work can (sometimes) grant us those experiences. If you are lucky enough to work in such a meaningful job, this has significant benefits for your mental health, how satisfied you are with life, for your levels of energy and even for your performance. In my own research, I focus on this type of meaningfulness, and I try to find out more where, when and how people experience these states at work.
WORK IS ESSENTIAL FOR WELLBEING First of all, it is of course important to have work. When compared to employed people, unemployed people in general have lower psychological and physical health, are more likely to suffer from depression and are even affected by higher suicide rates. This is not just because unemployed people may be in dire financial states, but also because they are deprived of the social benefits that work grants us in general. Being out of work makes it more difficult to have the experience of doing something purposeful, to achieve something with others. It makes it more difficult to meet other people outside one’s friends and family, who appreciate one’s abilities and status in society. Without work it is also more difficult to get activated and have a day structured in rest and active time. My research and the research of others has shown that it is exactly these other, so-called latent, benefits
of work that unemployed people are deprived of and that are responsible for their lowered mental health. A deprivation of those work-related factors is associated with worse mental health six months later. In that sense we could say that having work is better than having no work. Interestingly, when you ask someone the question: ‘Why do you work?’, people rarely mention those latent benefits of work. Usually, the first answer that comes forward is: ‘Well, because of the money, of course’ (ie why are you asking me such a stupid question!). When asking unemployed people what they miss most from work, the first aspect that is mentioned is surprisingly not money – but aspects associated with work, the colleagues (even the ones one did not like), the feeling of doing something useful and being part of something bigger.
Loughborough University School of Business and Economics Bi-Annual Magazine