Is all work good work?

As mentioned in many articles and in the Meaningful Lives statement, there are several positive reasons for pursuing employment as an element of vocational recovery. These include that young people with mental illness want to work, that employment connects people to a social environment as well as enhancing individuals’ capacity for economic independence. So far so good – employment seems like a good end in and of itself. However, if we see employment, particularly for young people with psychosis as an intervention in the recovery process, then it is also important that the experience of work is a positive one.

However there is a body of literature (e.g. Butterworth et al., 2013) and research that points out that some jobs are less likely to be beneficial to mental health. In this literature, it is pointed out that jobs with poorer psychosocial quality (that is, jobs with increasing number of adverse conditions) are associated with poorer mental health. Psychosocial quality of a job is made up of factors that examine how much control an employee has in a role, how demanding the role is, the status of the role and the security of the job. Researchers found that where more than 2 adverse qualities were associated with a job, there was no benefit to the job with respect to mental health compared to the mental health of people who were unemployed.

The take-away from this research as it pertains to vocational recovery has to be that consideration of the quality of the job is likely going to be associated with employment success and continued recovery. IPS and other forms of supported employment need to take into consideration the psychosocial quality of the work that people obtain. In fact it would be interesting if anyone has the appropriate data, to do an analysis examining psychosocial job quality, duration of employment and mental health status.

The issue about the quality of work is important beyond consideration of just vocational recovery. A recent article about this issue in the UK is well worth a read.

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