New Study Shows How Job Insecurity Can Change Your Personality In Some Pretty Scary Ways

Don't presume you know what someone is going through...


Yamkela Mdaka |

Job insecurity is rampant in South Africa — what with an unstable economy (which recently entered its third recession since 1994), a 29% unemployment rate and thousands of South Africans losing their jobs each year through retrenchments. If one thing’s for sure it’s that things, particularly in the job sector, are not looking good.

What this means is that a lot of us have had to deal with people — whether in our families, friendship circles or other spaces — who have unexpectedly found themselves without work. We try to be encouraging and show compassion for what they’re going through — thinking we understand.

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But a new study done by researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University, Australia’s largest tertiary institution, is challenging the general notion of how job insecurity impacts the people experiencing it. The study particularly looks at how job insecurity affects someone’s personality in the long-term.

Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the research says that the long-term effects of job insecurity can have an almost devastating impact on a person’s personality, leaving them less agreeable/pleasant, emotionally unstable and less diligent.

“Traditionally, we’ve thought about the short-term consequences of job insecurity — that it hurts your wellbeing, physical health and sense of self-esteem,” Dr Lena Wang, co-author of the study, said in a statement.

“But now we are looking at how that actually changes who you are as a person over time, a long-term consequence that you may not be aware of.”

Job insecurity won’t necessarily make you work harder

Using nationally representative data from Australia’s HILDA (Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia) Survey, a nine-year survey focusing on job security and personality, the researchers found something interesting…

While a large number of us likely believe that people who experience job insecurity would probably work extra hard at any job they have, to make sure they keep it, the opposite is true.

“We found that those chronically exposed to job insecurity are in fact more likely to withdraw their effort and shy away from building strong, positive working relationships, which can undermine their productivity in the long run.”

READ MORE: 4 Things That Will Make You Happy At Work In 2020

Long-term in this instance refers to being exposed to job insecurity for more than four years. And the key drivers of this could include short-term contracts or casual work, positions possibly in line for redundancy (leading to retrenchment) or jobs threatened by mechanisation.

“This is as much about perceived job insecurity as actual insecure contracts,” lead author of the study, Prof. Chia-Huei Wu, said in a statement.

“Some people simply feel daunted by the changing nature of their roles or fear they’ll be replaced by automation. But while some existing jobs can be replaced by automation, new jobs will be created. Some employers have the ability to reduce that perception, for example, by investing in professional development, skills and training, or by offering career guidance.”

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