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April 5, 2012
Holding On To a Job You Hate Will Eventually Make You Sick


Staying at a job you hate may affect more than just your happiness. New research finds that employees who stay at jobs out of a feeling of obligation are prone to several health problems, including exhaustion, stress and burnout.

"Our study examined whether some forms of commitment to an organization could have detrimental effects, such as emotional exhaustion and, eventually, turnover," said study co-author Alexandra Panaccio, an assistant professor at Concordia University in Montreal. "It may be that, in the absence of an emotional bond with the organization, commitment based on obligation is experienced as a kind of indebtedness -- a loss of autonomy that is emotionally draining over time."

A stressful job has a direct biological impact on the body, raising the risk of heart disease. People who are stressed in their jobs had less time to exercise and eat well - but they also showed signs of important biochemical changes.

The research, published in the journal Human Relations, found that employees who stayed at organizations out of either a feeling of obligation or a perceived lack of other job options were more likely than other employees to experience mental and physical health problems. Researchers based their findings on a study of 260 workers from a variety of industries.

The research also found that people with higher self-esteem were more greatly affected by a lack of employment options.

"When employees stay with their organization because they feel that they have no other options, they are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion," said Panaccio, who is in the department of management at Concordia's John Molson School of Business. "This feeling, in turn, may lead them to leave the organization."

Employers, however, can fight these problems by working with their employees.

"The implication is that employers should try to minimize this 'lack of alternatives' type of commitment among employees by developing their competencies, thus increasing their feeling of mobility and, paradoxically, contributing to them wanting to stay with the organization," Panaccio said.

On the one hand, those who reported stressful jobs appeared less likely to eat sufficient amounts of fruit and vegetables, and were less likely to exercise - although problem drinking did not emerge as a significant problem in this study.

Lifestyle, the researchers concluded, was nonetheless a key factor in the development of the disease.

Stress appeared to upset the part of the nervous system which controls the heart, telling it how to work and controlling the variability of the heart rate.

Those who reported stress were also recorded as having poor "vagal tone" - the impulses which regulate heartbeat.

A major part of the neuroendocrine system - which releases hormones - also seemed to be disturbed by stress, evidenced by the fact that anxious workers had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the morning.


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