Danielle van Dalen
“Choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
This cliché was printed on a sign outside the career advisor’s office at my school, and the underlying message always bugged me.
The idea that all of us get the luxury of “choosing” the perfect job is woefully out of touch, but more importantly, it’s just wrong to assume that it would be good for us to avoid work.
In fact, steady employment is good for our mental, emotional, and physical health, even when it isn’t fun.
Following the release of last week’s Well-Being Budget, economist Simon Chapple was frustrated by its failure to make “unemployment one of their central well-being priorities.”
He’s right to point out this oversight, as the benefits of work go beyond simply providing income.
More meaningful life
Despite our Monday morning protests, studies show that employment is “a source of meaning” that provides structure and purpose for many of us.
The World Happiness Report finds that having the structure of a working day, “regularly shared experiences and contacts with people outside the family, links to goals and purposes that transcend individual, personal status and identity, and the enforcement of activity,” are all important benefits we gain in employment. More than that, it’s an area of life in which we can participate in society.
Not only is it proven that work can be good for us, it is clear that not working can have negative effects. Gordon Waddell and A Kim Burton state that: “Unemployment is generally harmful to health” and is linked with “higher mortality,” poor “physical and mental health and well-being”, with the impacts reaching beyond the unemployed individual and into society. In fact, “mass unemployment is a major blow to society. It reduces the happiness of those unemployed by as much as bereavement or divorce, and it also infects those who do have jobs with the fear of losing them.”
Reducing involuntary unemployment
The World Happiness Report also found that when seeking to improve a state’s happiness “governments should give great weight to policies that reduce involuntary unemployment, including retraining, job matching, public employment, low-wage subsidies, [and] education support.” Finding a job can be stressful and demoralising for many, and it’s important to recognise that not everyone is able to work. But this is where good policy can play a part, preparing and assisting those who are able to work, while supporting those who are not.
Despite the Wellbeing Budget having come and gone, we need the Government to recognise their role in prioritising employment. It’s important for all of us.
As Mr Chapple states, “to place [unemployment] in such a position of prominence would be to inaugurate policies considerably more transformational that this coalition has thus far delivered.”
We need to stop giving our young people the wrong impression of work, spouting unhelpful clichés, and setting them up to be disappointed.
Instead, we need to embrace the reality that while work isn’t always fun, it’s incredibly important for our own health and the health of our society.
Danielle van Dalen is a Researcher at the Auckland-based Maxim Institute.