By Leah Chapman
Picture this: It’s Friday at 5pm, and you just finished a long 40-hour workweek. As you drive home, you think about your dissatisfying work, demanding boss, and how you live for the weekends. When you get home, you realize you’re hungry, and open the fridge for a snack. You see a bag of baby carrots, some apples, and some leftover pizza. You know you should eat the carrots or apples, but the stress of the workweek has gotten to you. You’re too exhausted to prep the produce- plus you want something salty and satisfying. So you grab the pizza, pop open a sweet drink, and head to the couch to indulge and decompress.
Job dissatisfaction is prevalent among workers in the United States. According to a recent Gallup poll, 51 percent of the country’s 100 million full-time employees are not engaged at work and feel no real connection to their jobs. Another 16 percent are highly dissatisfied at work, resent their jobs, and contribute to lower office morale as a result of their dissatisfaction.
Resenting your job is problematic for a variety of reasons- it can cause higher stress, poorer mental health, and worse physical health outcomes. For example, a recent study by Jonathan Dirlam and Hui Zheng at The Ohio State University looked at job satisfaction trajectories of workers ages 25 to 39 and mental health outcomes of the same respondents at age 40. The authors found that workers who had experienced the lowest job satisfaction were more likely to score low on a mental health screener and depression screener later in life. They were also more likely to be diagnosed with emotional problems, have trouble sleeping, and suffer from excessive worry.
Studies have also linked job dissatisfaction to poorer physical health outcomes. One 2006 study that followed 10,000 employees over 14 years found that workers with chronic work stress were more than twice as likely to have elevated risk factors of metabolic syndrome than those without work stress. Studies have also found that job satisfaction can influence biomarkers and anti-inflammatory agents that are related to the immune system.
But let’s think back to the pizza. Can job dissatisfaction and job stress significantly impact dietary behaviors among workers over time? The short answer is, we don’t really know. Very few studies have examined the impact of job dissatisfaction and job stress on dietary behaviors. One 2017 study involving 235 Chinese information technology and call center employees found that negative workday experiences were associated with less healthful eating in the evening. However, studies that follow workers over time are needed to distinguish between those experiencing temporary job dissatisfaction and those who experience prolonged job dissatisfaction, and how this may impact dietary behaviors.
The effects of job satisfaction on health are not surprising if you consider the significant amount of time most people spend at work. Gaining a better understanding of how to improve job satisfaction, such as increasing job security or increasing wages, could help to improve job satisfaction, health outcomes, and dietary behaviors among workers. Although our job conditions may not always be within our control, the next time you have a bad day at work, challenge yourself to decompress using healthy coping behaviors, such as meditating, spending times with people you enjoy, or engaging in physical activity. These strategies could help to mitigate the unhealthy behaviors associated with job-related stress.
Peer-reviewed by Mike Essman