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Jobs with variable income may negatively affect workers’ health - Breakthrough
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Jobs with variable income may negatively affect workers’ health

Research by the American Psychological Association has found that jobs with volatile incomes - such as gig work, hospitality and sales - may impact workers' health.

Unstable pay and its implications

Workforce sectors such as gig work, hospitality, and sales have a notable element in common – wage volatility. These jobs frequently depend on tips, commissions, or variable contracts, making the income flow less predictable and often unreliable. According to recent research by the American Psychological Association, this monetary inconsistency may exact a significant toll on workers’ health.

The research, which was published in the journal Applied Psychology, conducted studies spanning numerous US industries discovered that employees with more unstable earnings reported increased physical ailments. These symptoms included poor sleep quality, headaches, stomach troubles, and back pain. Interestingly, these health outcomes appear universally applicable, affecting workers across a wide range of incomes. Whether it’s low-paid tipped jobs, freelancers in the gig economy or higher-paid professionals working in sectors such as finance, sales, and marketing, where performance bonuses are prevalent, pay volatility tends to predict worse health outcomes.

Exploring the correlation: Volatile earnings and health concerns

One particular study closely analysed the daily earnings and health of 85 workers in the US whose income relied significantly on tips. Over a two-week period, these workers answered daily online surveys regarding their total income and health. The study found that these workers reported receiving tips on 80% of their workdays, with an average daily tip total of $36.18, which comprised approximately a quarter of their total income.

Alarmingly, large fluctuations in daily pay during these two weeks correlated with increased negative physical health symptoms and deteriorated sleep quality. This relationship was even more significant when the volatile pay constituted a more considerable portion of the participants’ total income.

A separate study involved participants working an average of 29 hours per week on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a platform where gig workers can undertake various tasks for minimal remuneration. This study also found a similar link between pay volatility and poor health.

The effect of pay volatility in high-income jobs

The last study involved an online survey conducted with 252 higher-income employees in finance, marketing, and sales who relied on commissions or bonuses for a smaller part of their income. Interestingly, pay volatility was less harmful to their health when they were less reliant on these unpredictable income sources. The notion of mindfulness, or focusing on the present moment, while beneficial in reducing stress in other life aspects, did not appear to diminish the physical symptoms linked to volatile pay.

The way forward: Earning higher income without jeopardising health

If you’re exploring how to make extra cash, considering the volatility of the income source and its potential impact on health is essential. The findings from these studies raise questions about the necessity of volatile forms of pay and their implications on workers’ wellbeing.

Businesses and policy-makers should review the necessity of volatile compensation forms like tips, piece-rate work, performance bonuses, and commissions. Moreover, there should be a more significant focus on ensuring that more stable forms of remuneration make up a larger proportion of workers’ total income.

Legislation could potentially improve the situation for millions of individuals who rely on fluctuating income. For instance, raising the federal tipped minimum wage and providing more substantial protections for gig workers are actions that could help. Moreover, workers’ unions can offer additional protection against volatile pay.

In summary, while the study does not assert that volatile pay directly causes health symptoms, it certainly reveals a correlation that merits further examination. The findings underline the necessity of both organisational and legislative changes to ensure that workers can earn a living without putting their health at risk.

Vey Law

Vey Law is a reporter at Breakthrough.

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