How a Boring Job Can Be Harmful to Your Health

June 24th 2016

If you care about your brain, it may be time to quit your boring job and look for something more stimulating.

New research from Florida State University shows that boring (and dirty) work environments can wreak havoc on your brain.

Researchers set out to learn about the impact of factors like loud noises, mold, lead, and boredom by gathering cognitive function data from about 5,000 adults taking part in the "Midlife in the United States" study.

They surveyed adults about their ability to retain and reuse information and executive functioning skills, which include time-management, and the ability to pay attention and complete tasks. They also were asked about whether they were experiencing memory issues.

The findings, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, seem to affirm that age-old saying ''if you don't use it, you lose it,'" lead researcher Dr. Joseph​ Grzywacz said in the report.

The report also shows that respondents, especially women, who reported having been challenged and having learned new skills on the job showed stronger cognitive function.

"(The study) highlights the reality that cognition in adulthood has a complex etiology, and signals the importance of looking across disciplines and fields for plausible predictors," write the researchers. "More research combining physical and psychosocial workplace exposures is needed."

Dirty jobs can be bad for your brain, too.

The report found that dirty working environments can decrease cognitive function in the same way as boring jobs. Industrial hygienists said this could be due to chemicals in the work environment, according to Grzywacz.

Grzywacz says:

"There are real things in the workplace that can shape cognitive function — some that you can see or touch, and others you can't. We showed both matter to cognitive health in adulthood. Both of these issues are important when we think about the long-term health of men and women. Designing jobs to ensure that all workers have some decision-making ability may protect cognitive function later in life, but it's also about cleaning up the workplace."

Several other studies have also measured the effects of workplace stressors on employees' well-being. A 2015 working paper from the Harvard and Stanford business schools, for instance, found that job insecurity and long hours can lead to a range of health problems, and sometimes even death.

The Atlantic wrote about this study in a 2015 article:

"The paper found that health problems stemming from job stress, like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and decreased mental health, can lead to fatal conditions that wind up killing about 120,000 people each year—making work-related stressors and the maladies they cause, more deadly than diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or influenza."

Because on-the-job accidents are so common — about 150 people died each day as a result of hazardous working conditions in 2014 — we tend not to see conditions as hazardous unless they can cause physical harm. Although boredom won't kill you, it has the potential to harm you mentally. So maybe it's time we start considering it an occupational hazard, too.

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