Unemployed Long-Term? Your Personality May Change

Big news. Unemployment can change a person.  But maybe not in the ways you might think.

I was unemployed twice and it wasn't pretty.  It was actually quite depressing.  Both times happened in my 20s, and I wound up with better jobs eventually.  But only after a very long, dark period in my life.

The first time, I was let go from a large company that manufactured chemicals -- pesticides, household cleaners, that kind of thing.  I actually flew around the country to interview farmers on their use of agricultural chemicals.  No surprise it didn't work out.  Of course it didn't help that the owner of the company tried to sexually harass me and I had nowhere to turn.  Come to think of it, that's why I lost the first job, too.  In those days you got away with it.

Then I got one of my favorite jobs, working as an editor for Good Housekeeping magazine.  It was a temporary position and they let me go after six months, due to office politics (the top editor wasn't consulted about my hiring and she was determined to put an end to it).

In  the first case I got unemployment, but in the second, I didn't.  I had to move back home with my parents (I wasn't a Boomerang; though my parents might not have agreed).   I couldn't get a job for almost a year, and life was pretty bittersweet.  I was happy to have a place to call home, but I so wanted to be working, and on my own.

I'm one of those people who can't be happy if she isn't working.  Work is my identity, right or wrong.   When I wasn't working, I felt like I was nothing -- and this even held true when my son was born and I stayed home with him for a while.  About12 years.

Finally, a job came through, after those dreadful months when I was younger, and I've been employed ever since.  But that time of unemployment still leaves a dark hole in my spirit and so I'm not at all surprised that studies are finding that your personality changes when you don't have work.

Unemployment can change peoples' core personalities, making some less conscientious, agreeable and open, which may make it difficult for them to find new jobs, according to research published by the American Psychological Association, as reported by newswise.com.

"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," says Christopher J. Boyce, PhD, of the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom. "This indicates that unemployment has wider psychological implications than previously thought."
The researchers looked at the so-called "Big Five" personality traits - conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion and openness. They found that men experienced increased agreeableness during the first two years of unemployment, compared to men who never lost their jobs. But after two years, the agreeableness levels of the unemployed men began to diminish and, in the long run, were lower than those of the men with jobs. For women, agreeableness declined with each year of unemployment.

"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 wrote, "but in later years when the situation becomes endemic, such incentives may weaken."

I know I gave up for a while, quite sure I would never find a job again.  It works on your psyche, your disposition, how you feel about yourself.  The world becomes a dismal place where you just don't fit in.    I remember being jealous of a telephone repair man up high in a tree (never mind I'm afraid of heights).  At least he had a job.

The study suggests that the effect of unemployment across society is more than just an economic concern -- the unemployed may be unfairly stigmatized as a result of unavoidable personality change, potentially creating a downward cycle of difficulty in the labor market, Boyce said.


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