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Which Is Worse: A Bad Job or No Job?

Michael M. DeSafey -- It's like choosing between a rock and a hard place—both carry their fair share of stress. However, one actually offers a distinct opportunity.

You might think there's nothing worse than being unemployed. Not only do you feel like you're not contributing and using your talents, you're also not making any money, which is stressful and even frightening as the bills pile up around you. Your self-esteem might start to drop when you can't find work, and you get anxious as that gap in your resume widens. How are you going to explain that when you finally get an interview? At some point during unemployment, you think, "I'll take any job right now. Even a bad one."

Not so fast.

In 2011, CNN reported on in a study, which indicated a surprising trend:

"'Moving from unemployment to a poor-quality job offered no mental health benefit, and in fact was more detrimental to mental health than remaining unemployed,' says the lead author of the study, Peter Butterworth, Ph.D."

Bad jobs in the construction, engineering, or environmental industries can share some of the following characteristics:

-- An unsafe working environment.
-- A manager or supervisor who is indecisive, manipulative, unavailable, or bad at communicating. This article notes that people who make bad bosses in the construction industry play favorites and don't offer employees a path toward professional development and career advancement.
-- Low pay.
-- Monotonous, unchallenging tasks.
-- A heavy workload.
-- Lack of clear expectations for the job.
-- Lack of job security or not enough hours of work.

While everyone has a different level of tolerance for workplace politics and job demands, these characteristics, alone or in combination, can leave an employee stressed, disheartened, anxious, and frustrated. At the end of a long day of being micromanaged, overworked, or underappreciated, employees in bad jobs go home tired, unhappy, and unfulfilled. This mental drain can start to impact their personal lives, as well.

While unemployment carries its fair share of stress, we point out a distinct opportunity that a bad job rarely offers:

"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... "

With unemployment, you have time and energy to devote to perfecting your skills and finding a good job, a job where you feel challenged, where your work is appreciated, and where you can move forward in your career.

If you're already in a bad job, the fear of unemployment can turn that bad job into a trap. You might be hesitant to leave it, preferring "the devil you know" to the uncertainty of being without a job. ABC News recognized this trap and offered a few tips for making the best of that bad situation:

-- Try to improve your relationship with your boss.
-- Ask for new assignments.
-- Don't engage in office or construction site gossip.
-- And, the most important tip of all: "Do one thing every day to find a new job." Prevent your bad job from becoming a soul-sucking trap by being proactive about finding a better one.

If you are currently unemployed, take a deep breath and remember the good thing about it: you've got time. Use that time wisely to hone your skills, perfect your resume, meet new people, and find your ideal job. The paycheck might seem to make a bad job worth it, especially if it's been a while since you had a steady income, but you have to consider the toll it takes on your health and well-being.

Whether you find yourself unemployed or in the middle of a bad job, work to better the situation. Having a game plan is empowering, and when you follow the steps, you'll find your way toward that better job.


Michael DeSafey is a leading executive recruiter for professionals in the construction, engineering and environmental industries. He is currently the President of Webuild Staffing To learn more about Michael or to follow his Blog please visit

© 2018 Michael M. DeSafey

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