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Being Unhappy at Work Can Have Long-Term Health Effects

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.com.

Do you feel unhappy at work more often than not?

If so, it’s more than just a bad mood that’s at stake — your health could suffer long-term as well.

A new report from Empower Work on The State of Vulnerable Workers 2022 showed that over 70% of those surveyed feel unsafe and disrespected at work, with stress and anxiety the highest reported emotions, doubling in 2022 over 2019.

How Unhappiness at Work Impacts Health

unable to fall asleep
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“People we support report not being able to sleep, focus, take care of themselves or their family, as well as increases in harmful behaviors and coping mechanisms,” said Jaime-Alexis Fowler, Empower Work’s founder and executive director.

Fowler added that workers who have the option to work remotely can potentially avoid these types of problems.

“Flexibility in any form — work from home, schedule accommodation, etc. — absolutely has an impact on well-being at work,” Fowler said. “It feels like a reflection of value and respect.”

Katherine Kirkinis, Ph.D., who is a vocational psychologist and the CEO and founder of Wanderlust Careers, believes career and mental health are “inherently intertwined,” noting that the mental health impacts of an unhappy work situation can be extreme, such as having passive suicidal thoughts like hoping to get hit by a bus on their way to work so they didn’t have to go in that day.

“I’ve seen people’s self-esteem and self-worth decline from toxic work environments, workplace bullying, and/or taking a job with tasks that are beneath their skill sets,” said Kirkinis. “I’ve seen work-related mental health issues, such as anxiety/panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, Sunday scaries, and dread about going into work.”

What to Know About Stress Accumulation

Stressed senior man worried about retirement finances
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Licensed Counseling Psychologist Christine Keller agrees that stress accumulation and sleep problems top the list of long-term health effects that can result from being unhappy in the workplace.

“Going to a job you hate every single day can put you into a state of desperation and misery,” Keller said. “Stress accumulation is inevitable. When we’re stressed out, we feel irritable, and it damages both our psychological and physical being. Stress can cause digestive problems, fatigue, problems with concentration, you name it.”

Being unhappy at work can also lead to insomnia and restless sleeping patterns, according to Keller.

“Trouble falling asleep is common when we feel distressed,” she explained. “Getting a good night’s sleep can impact our mood, productivity, and how our brain functions. When we don’t get enough sleep, this impacts our judgment, motivation, memory, concentration, and so on.”

Additional Long-Term Health Problems

Worried woman sitting on her sofa
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Additional long-term health problems that can develop from unhappiness at work include illness and weight gain.

“Being unhappy at work makes you susceptible to illness because negative emotions and stress weaken your immune system,” Keller said. “When you hate your job, the risk of heart disease, depression, and other mental health conditions is significantly higher.”

Feeling down at work may also lead you to start finding comfort in food. “This phenomenon is known as stress eating, which can make you gain weight,” Keller said.

She added that a lack of physical activity due to a lack of energy can also make you gain weight. “Feeling drained at work sucks all your energy, so you don’t have any left for other things, such as exercising.”

Remote Work to the Rescue

Happy remote worker
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How can remote work help people avoid unhappiness at work and the potential negative health effects that can follow?

There are a number of ways that working remotely can help set workers up for a healthier lifestyle.

1. More Flexibility and Independence

Happy remote worker
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Sarah Jameson, marketing director of Green Building Elements, saw some of these issues exhibited by her team members.

Her company thus tackled the situation by studying the implications of job unhappiness and investigating how remote employment could help address it.

“This heightened sense of control and flexibility can result in a more positive mood and a stronger sense of life satisfaction,” Jameson said.

2. Better Work-Life Balance

father and son planting garden plants
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Keller emphasized that working more flexibly significantly reduces stress levels, which can pave the way for a more reasonable work-life balance.

“For example, implementing mindfulness breaks is easier when you work remotely, and this practice can improve our well-being by reducing stress and negative emotions,” Keller said.

Jameson agreed that when people can work from home, they feel more in control of their lives and have more time to spend with their families.

3. Less Commute Stress

A young couple cooks breakfast
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On a related note, wasting time commuting to work is definitely one of the downsides of each job, and it is directly linked to stress and anxiety, according to Keller.

“Remote work offers you extra sleep in the morning and time to exercise, eat a healthy breakfast, or time to spend with your family,” Keller said.

4. Increased Productivity and Performance

Happy remote worker talking on the phone while working on laptop
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“Working remotely means there are fewer distractions, interruptions, and noise,” Keller said, noting that remote workers can focus better on their performance and the tasks at hand.

“When you feel more productive, you achieve better results regardless of the scope of your work.”

5. Greater Comfort

Happy senior man working on his laptop and phone at a remote job.
Evgeny Atamanenko / Shutterstock.com

Jameson pointed out that working remotely also allows individuals to avoid the stress and distractions that come with working in a regular office setting.

“Remote work can certainly help increase happiness at work for many people, especially if the issues plaguing them are related to in-person work — for example, difficulty focusing in an open floor plan, difficult relationships with coworkers, social anxiety, etc.,” Jameson said.

“Remote work has allowed many people to feel more comfortable during their workday, which in turn can have a significant impact on their mental health and can help people avoid the long-term health effects that have been proven to result from being unhappy at work.”

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