People's perception of their own socioeconomic status may contribute to their own employment status, according to new research.
People who view themselves as members of a lower social class may have a harder time getting a job. The problem is that unemployed people who perceive themselves as being in a low class might picture themselves as having a smaller, less diverse social network than they actually do, hurting their chances of finding employment, new research shows.
The study by University of Michigan professor Ned Smith revealed that when threatened with the loss of a job, people who think of themselves as having a low social status view their social and professional networks as smaller and denser than they actually are. The pattern among high-status people was just the opposite, with those facing unemployment imagining their networks as being larger and more diverse than they actually are in reality.
Smith said people who perceive themselves to have low status create a frustrating cycle by mentally cutting off the network ties that might be the most valuable to them.
"They feel threatened, reach deeper inside their network, limit their access to information on new opportunities, and feel further threatened," Smith said. "That has real implications during a financial crisis when instances of job loss increase."
The research also has implications for human resource professionals charged with laying off employees.
"When a company is laying off folks, something as simple as reminding people that they have a network full of resources, or encouraging them to cast a wide net could help counterbalance this effect," Smith said. "Job counselors might steer them toward LinkedIn and Facebookto mobilize their old connections and make sure they access all the information out there."
Smith's paper, titled "Status Differences in the Cognitive Activation of Social Networks," was co-authored by Tanya Menon and Leigh Thompson of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. It appears in the January-February edition of the journal Organization Science.
Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years working as a newspaper reporter and now works as a freelancer business and technology reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.