How Redundancy Makes Us Cynical

Downsizing Stress

As the great recession has unfolded, it has encouraged a renewed exploration of the impact unemployment has on our mental wellbeing.  For instance, a recent study, which I wrote about here, found that losing our job can rid us of many of the personality traits that are a major part of finding a new job.

A second study then highlighted how losing our job affects our mood, with the shocking finding that some 20 percent of all suicides are linked to unemployment. If that isn’t bad enough, a third study suggests that these changes to our personality can linger for as long as ten years.

The research, conducted by the University of Manchester, suggests that getting the sack can diminish our trust in other people for as long as a decade after getting the chop.

Worryingly, the fall in trust levels caused by redundancy continue even should you find a new job in the future. The authors suggest that therefore that the large scale redundancies caused by the recent recession could have significant impacts upon society over the coming years.

How getting the sack causes us to lose trust in people

The paper, which was published in Social Science Research, shows that losing our job both makes us less trusting of others and also more cynical, with the shift lasting at least nine years from the time we lose our job.  What’s more, this change in our mood does not reach a peak soon after our dismissal before dissipating gradually over time, but instead holds steady for some time, even if we find a new job relatively quickly.

"People’s willingness to trust others tends to remain largely stable over their lifetime. However, this work shows that trauma like redundancy can shift people’s outlook of the world and this change persists long after the experience occurred," the author says.

Some 7,000 British adults were quizzed, from 1991 to 2008, during which time they were asked to record any periods of redundancy. It emerged that when they were older, the participants were 4.5 percent less likely to trust people if they had experienced some form of redundancy over that 17 year period than the fortunate few that had not been sacked during that period.

What’s more, this drop was even more pronounced amongst participants for whom their job was a major part of their identity. This cohort saw a 7 percent drop in their ability to trust others.

The authors go on to reveal that they believe the true social costs of the recent recession have not yet been explored, and it’s about time that such an analysis was undertaken.

"Even a single experience of redundancy can lead to depressed trust and what is particularly concerning is that people reported less willingness to trust others even after they got another job. The study shows that the experience of redundancy can scar an individual’s trust in others. This has important implications not just for the person involved but for society as a whole as trust can have significant benefits, from health and happiness, to social cohesion, efficient democratic governance and economic development," they say.

All of which is rather worrying if you are one of the unfortunate ones that have lost their job in recent years.

(Dis)placing Trust: the Long-Term Effects of Job Displacement on Generalised Trust over the Adult Lifecourse