Unemployment is undoubtedly one of the most stressful events we can go through in life. A recent paper set out to explore just what the traumatic experience of losing our job did to our personality, and indeed whether the changes it invoked would make it harder to find a new job in the future.
The findings reveal that losing our job can have a big impact upon our personalities, rendering us less agreeable, open and even conscientious. These changes can then make it much harder to find a replacement job.
The results challenge the idea that our personalities are ’fixed’ and show that the effects of external factors such as unemployment can have large impacts on our basic personality," the authors reveal. "This indicates that unemployment has wider psychological implications than previously thought."
The study saw over 6,500 German adults undertake a personality test on two different dates over a four year period. A few hundred of these were unemployed for between one and four years during this time, with a further 250 of them out of work for less than a year during the same period.
The researchers were specifically analysing the big five personality traits of neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness and extraversion. The results revealed that after a prolonged period of unemployment, men became distinctly less agreeable. While this change required a prolonged period of unemployment to take root in men, it seemed to happen much faster for women.
In early unemployment stages, there may be incentives for individuals to behave agreeably in an effort to secure another job or placate those around them," the researchers say, "but in later years when the situation becomes endemic, such incentives may weaken."
This change was even more prominent when it came to conscientiousness. It emerged that the longer men were out of work, the bigger the reduction in their conscientiousness. Interestingly, for women, it emerged that they experienced a boost in conscientiousness in the early stages of unemployment. It then slumped after a while, before rebounding as unemployment became longer. The authors suggest that this conscientiousness boost may be a result of women pursuing some non-work related tasks that are more traditionally associated with women, such as perhaps caring for a relative.
With regards to openness, the study found that this trait would hold steady in the first year of male unemployment, before then steadily falling the longer they were out of work. In women, it emerged that a sharp fall was seen after 2-3 years of unemployment before it also rebounded in the 4th year.
Traditionally, unemployment has been looked at in purely financial terms, but this study highlights the importance of taking a wider perspective on the problem. This is especially important as there may be stigma attached to personality changes that may be a natural part of the process.
Public policy therefore has a key role to play in preventing adverse personality change in society through both lower unemployment rates and offering greater support for the unemployed," the authors conclude. "Policies to reduce unemployment are therefore vital not only to protect the economy but also to enable positive personality growth in individuals."
Have you noticed your own personality change when you’ve been unemployed for a time? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments section below.