Chronic job insecurity has long-term effects on personality

Mar 21, 2020
Researchers have claimed job insecurity can have lasting effects on a person's personality. Source: Getty

Ongoing job insecurity can lead to serious changes in personality, experts have warned, with new research revealing the extent stress and fear can have on the body.

According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, those exposed to job insecurity over more than four years become less emotionally stable, less agreeable and less conscientious.

Although previous reports have revealed the stress some may experience in these environments, co-author Dr Lena Wang from RMIT University, said this latest research confirms a person’s personality can be altered.

“Traditionally, we’ve thought about the short-term consequences of job insecurity – that it hurts your wellbeing, physical health, sense of self-esteem,” Wang said. “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 even be aware of.”

The study used data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey to assist their research, measuring it against the five broad traits of human personality; emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion and openness.

Research showed that long-term job insecurity negatively affected the first three traits, which relate to a person’s tendency to achieve goals, get along with others and cope with stress. Wang said these results went against some current assumptions about job insecurity.

“Some might believe that insecure work increases productivity because workers will work harder to keep their jobs, but our research suggests this may not be the case if job insecurity persists,” she said.

“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.”

The fear of losing a job is not uncommon among boomers, with ageism in the workplace increasingly common. In fact, experts have said this cohort risk being forced out of the workforce before they’re ready if employers don’t work to redesign jobs to suit their needs.

According to a separate report, if employers continue on their current path of penalising rather than encouraging older workers, the number who will need to be supported by other workers could rise by an average of 40 per cent by 2050 across developed nations, including Australia.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) research said there needs to be greater flexibility in working times and better working conditions in order to promote higher workplace participation at all ages.

Professor Chia-Huei Wu from Leeds University agreed, stating that the latest research proves employers need to better support workers who are feeling worried about the future of their jobs. He said it is as much about perceived job insecurity as actual insecure contracts.

“Some people simply feel daunted by the changing nature of their roles or fear they’ll be replaced by automation,” Wu said. “But while some existing jobs can be replaced by automation, new jobs will be created.

“So, employers have the ability to reduce that perception, for example by investing in professional development, skills and training, or by giving career guidance.”

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