Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ recent reports on unemployment have showed a steady decline in unemployment over the past four years, recent data from the Journal of Applied Psychology suggest the psychological impact of unemployment could have long-lasting effects on workers that employers should bear in mind when assessing new talent.

Research published in the JAP shows gaps in employment may cause personality changes that could pose challenges for employees returning to the workforce.

“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, of the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom, and one of the lead authors of the report. “This indicates that unemployment has wider psychological implications than previously thought.”

Also see: Unemployment numbers don’t tell the real jobs crisis story

The four-year study followed 6,769 German adults to measure five major personality traits — conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion and openness — at two points between 2006 and 2009. Among the participants, 210 said they were unemployed for one to four years during the time of the study and another 251 were unemployed for under a year before finding work.

Employers may want to take note of this study if they rely on personality assessments to help them make hiring decisions, says Michael Rogers, CEO of iFocus: Human Capital Solutions, a consulting firm. Since the research indicates one’s personality can fluctuate during times of employment and unemployment, those personality assessments might not always be accurate, he says.

“If you’re assessing candidates for employment, and especially if you are using a personality-based assessment, this study indicates that the individual’s personality will change between when you assess them and you’ve re-employed them,” he says.

Also see: Hiring managers use data analytics to increase employee retention

And, he says, employers should make sure to keep an open mind when evaluating the personalities of candidates who’ve been unemployed for a period of time.

“The unemployed [candidate] may in fact be a diamond in the rough as the unemployed personality may re-bloom when you invest in their employment again,” he says.

Proactive steps

Unemployment affects people’s self-esteem and confidence, says Richard Citrin, president of Citrin Consulting.

The study, for example, showed that agreeableness of unemployed participants generally declined over time, and a distinct gender difference was noted by the study’s authors. While women’s agreeableness tended to decline with each passing year of unemployment, men actually had an increase in agreeableness during the first two years of unemployment.

Also see: Southwest Airlines incorporates Myers-Briggs personality test

An employer’s onboarding experience, Citrin says, can be paramount to getting both long-term unemployed and newly employed staff on track for success. One example, he says, can be helping the new hire build relationships right off the bat.

“The extraversion quality, as well as the neuroticism, can be very much geared in the sense of having friends and relationships at work,” he says. Employers should have new employees shadow existing staff through a partnering program, he advises. It’s important to keep any feeling of isolation out of the picture, particularly for workers who have been unemployed for a period of time.

“That sense of compassion and cooperativeness is a factor of agreeableness and can really make a difference in getting them going right away,” says Citrin.

The orientation and onboarding of new employees is so critical and important for the previously unemployed, says David Twitchell, vice president of human resources at New Hampshire Catholic Charities, who is also a special expertise panelist with the Society for Human Resource Management. “Those first three months are so critical with welcoming them, making them feel welcome. It’s a mutual situation -- not only did they choose to come work here, but the organization also chose them.”

Also see: Inspire new hires with strong onboarding experience

Back in 2004 and 2005, the talent wars favored of employees, but since the financial crisis of 2008 until now, employers have been in the driver’s seat. “We’re beginning to see this shift back to the employee side, which means there is the potential for some of these long-term unemployed people of having an opportunity to return to the workplace,” says Citrin.

This shift is reflected in Walmart’s decision to increase the minimum wage they’re paying, and more and more companies are taking a stronger approach to talent development and leadership, he says. “They want to engage their employees a little bit more.”

Another area where employers can help, Citrin suggests, is partnering current employees with volunteer work.

“If your organization encourages volunteerism, that’s a way for employers to help keep employees involved in the community,” he says. “It helps people create a sense of giving back to the community and that can be a very powerful tool.”

Also see: Volunteering linked to better health

And maintaining volunteer work during unemployment will help maintain a sense of compassion and conscientiousness, says Citrin. In addition, volunteering will also contributed to the extroversion, providing some of the positive energy an unemployed person might crave. 

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