How Working A Job You Hate Is Worse Than Being Unemployed

by John Haltiwanger

Have you ever had a job that you absolutely despised?

Unless you were born into a wealthy family or you won the lottery at a young age, chances are, you've probably worked somewhere that made you miserable. Maybe you're still there.

During high school and college, this type of employment is unavoidable. Beggars can't be choosers. You have to take what you can get.

We all need money, it's an unfortunate fact of life. Yet, should this necessity come at the cost of our happiness?

Is having a job that sucks the soul out of you really better than being unemployed?

After all, unemployment is no walk in the park either. It drains your bank account and your self-esteem.

Americans worship wealth. When you're not in a position to produce any, you become an outcast.

Millennials understand the perils of unemployment better than anyone. Most of us graduated from college in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

We were raised upon the notion of the "American Dream." We were told that if we worked hard and did well in school, we could be anything we wanted to. What a load of crap that turned out to be.

The vicious cycle of unemployment.

When the economy is tanking, employment becomes increasingly elusive. It doesn't matter if you graduated with a 4.0 and were a star athlete that volunteered at an orphanage over the weekend.

It's tough to be young in an economic climate like this. It makes searching for a job an excruciating process.

You send out countless job applications, many of them to positions you're far overqualified for. You write so many cover letters your head feels like it will explode. Most of the time, you never even hear back. Sometimes they are courteous enough to at least send you an automatic email response, "We have received your application."

In many instances it's almost worse to have an actual human-being reply. It's always the same: "Thank you for your application. While we were very impressed by your résumé, we are looking for someone with more experience."

It's a vicious cycle. You apply for entry-level positions that seemingly require no experience. Then you're told you need experience to get hired. But since no one will hire you, you can't build any experience.

You could take an unpaid internship, but then how would you pay off those student loans?

You're left with few good options. Ultimately, you give up on your dreams and accept a job that will help you pay the bills. You hate it, but it's better than being out on the streets, right? Wrong.

This sad mentality not only damages the economy in the long run, it's also bad for your mental health and general well-being.

The economy suffers when people take miserable jobs.

Unemployment is down to 5.8 percent right now. That's a positive sign. At the same time, we have to realize that the factors behind this are complicated.

For example, labor participation is also down, which can distort the overall level of unemployment.

Likewise, as Juli Niemann, an analyst with Smith Moore & Co. in St. Louis, notes:

A lot of people are giving up. They're not even in the numbers; they're not in the count. They've been looking for jobs for so long and can't find the jobs that they're simply not even trying anymore. And that is why you see this [unemployment rate] number below 6 percent looking better than it really is.

Moreover, the United States may have created an average of 227,000 jobs per month in 2014, but the quality of the jobs has been quite low.

More people are getting hired, but they're ending up in jobs with few hours and low wages. More jobs mean nothing when they don't lead to fatter paychecks.

All of this is terrible for the economy in the long-run, in the sense that it undermines competitiveness, productivity and levels of social inclusiveness. 

In other words, low quality jobs are pushing people to the fringes of society.

When it comes to unemployment, quality over quantity should be the guiding rule.

Not surprisingly, despite the fact unemployment is down, most Americans are still dissatisfied with the economy. In turn, they are suffering both mentally and spiritually.

Your terrible job is bad for your mental health.

Conventional wisdom tells us that being unemployed is the worst position an adult can be in. We all need to get paid, and staying connected with the labor market increases a person's employability in the future.

You don't want to have large gaps in employment on your résumé, this makes it look as though people had a reason not to hire you.

This is precisely why many people take jobs that they hate and stay in them despite being incredibly unhappy.

Yet, a recent survey from the Household, Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) has challenged perceptions surrounding unemployment.

The survey looked at the well-being and mental health of unemployed vs. employed people. It ultimately found that being in a bad job is worse for a person's psychological well-being than being unemployed.

If you're in a monotonous and unchallenging job in which your work is micromanaged, your mental health will suffer a great deal.

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, let alone what you're going to eat for dinner.

We all want to find employment that allows our unique skills to be put to good use. When we end up working somewhere that constricts us, where every day is the same, it chips away at the very essence of our being.

Humans aren't meant to simply pay bills until we die. As Maya Angelou once aptly stated:

You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don't make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can't take their eyes off you.

There is almost nothing more rewarding than being in a job you love. It makes you excited to wake up in the morning and get to work. Sometimes you actually can't wait for the weekend to be over because you're so passionate about what you're doing.

For most of us, this simply isn't the case. Landing your dream job in today's world ain't easy. That doesn't mean you should give up pursuing it.

In the words of Winston Churchill:

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Unemployment is scary, but the prospect of wasting your life doing something you hate should be even more terrifying.

You only get one life, don't waste it. Take risks. Recognize that even failures have great value.

Struggle is inevitable, it's what makes victory that much sweeter.

Citations: A bad job is harder on your mental health than unemployment (Mashable ), The psychosocial quality of work determines whether employment has benefits for mental health (Household, Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia), Unemployment is down but good jobs are scarce (NBC News), Beyond The Unemployment Rate Look At These 5 Labor Indicators (NPR), Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (Bureau of Labor Statistics ), Why Cant People Feel the Economic Recovery (The Atlantic)