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Does Career Advancement Positively Affect Mental Health?

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Many people want to advance in their careers because they think it’ll make them happier. They might think if they held a higher position, they might finally feel satisfied and successful. That way, they can clamber up the corporate ladder to earn promotions, prestigious titles and, ultimately, a bigger slice of the pie. 

Perhaps the sentiment stems from Covid-related career pauses. Nearly 40% of professionals have felt stuck in their jobs since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, almost 60% of senior managers have admitted to postponing promoting top performers. The majority of them express concerns about retention, and for good reason.

Nearly one in three employees say they want to pursue a more meaningful or fulfilling job. They may consider resigning if their employer has failed to recognize their potential. Although it seems like experiencing career progression and enjoying a happier life is a worthy aim, does career advancement improve mental health? 

There’s more to it than meets the eye, and sometimes, the top rungs of the corporate ladder aren’t as shiny as they seem from below.

When career advancement is positive 

Many times, career advancement does have a positive impact on mental health. Those who have experienced life-altering events or a debilitating diagnosis often find working provides structure and meaning, which can promote well-being and, ultimately, their mental health. Receiving a raise or promotion may also improve confidence, independence and self-efficacy, which can stabilize mood and positively affect thoughts and emotions. 

Even people without a history of mental illness can benefit from career advancement. For instance, employees who enjoy personalized learning paths, training, networking and coaching often thrive and advance. They flourish because they have the necessary support to make seamless and successful progress. In this case, soft skills, education credits and feedback are often an integral part of their development.

Facing the negative consequences 

However, career advancement can also negatively affect workers’ mental health. This outcome is more likely if they work in an unhealthy environment, accept a position for which they’re unqualified or fail to receive the support they need to make a promotion happen. 

In this case, many professionals may experience higher stress levels because they’re unprepared to take on more responsibilities or phantom work, including dealing with conflicts and workplace rivalries. Eventually, they may experience overwhelm and burnout, resulting in fatigue, dissatisfaction with life and poor mental health.

A case-by-case basis

Career advancement affects everyone differently. Therefore, it’s difficult to give a definitive answer as to whether it improves or impairs mental health. Ultimately, the outcome will vary depending on many factors, including personality, managers, work environment, and tendency to develop mental health issues or succumb to stressful situations. 

The motive behind pursuing career advancement will also determine someone’s success as they climb the corporate ladder. If their reasons for progressing include more money or power, they’ll likely end up just as disappointed as they were before. However, if they seek fulfillment from the work itself, they’ll be more apt to find happiness through advancement and, in doing so, improve their overall well=being. 

Supporting healthy career advancement 

Physicians certainly have a role to play in supporting good mental health, but employers have more opportunities to promote it at work by implementing healthy career advancement plans. These progression paths should prioritize work-life balance, a positive workplace environment, uplifting culture and worker satisfaction. They might also uphold the career lattice concept, which allows employees to move to different fields as they progress within the same career path.  

Supporting career advancement and mental health requires some investment. However, employers’ efforts will ultimately boost retention, promote company growth and minimise health care costs at a corporate and national level. Most importantly, their efforts will open new doors for employees and improve their mental health exponentially.

Ginger Abbot has written for The National Alliance for Mental Illness, HerCampus, Motherly, and more. When she’s not freelancing, she works as chief editor for the learning publication Classrooms, where you can read more of her work.

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