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Unburned Bridges Mean Happier Job Searches

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Unburned Bridges Mean Happier Job Searches

Unemployed workers who are able to identify with their former employers feel more confident during the job search, new research shows.

A study by San Francisco State University assistant professor of management Jennifer Tosti-Kharas discovered that those who strongly identified with their former employers, even those employees who hadbeen fired or laid off, reported more confidence and a greater sense of purpose and belonging when unemployed.

The research cited different ways of identifying with a former employer, including taking it as personal attack when someone insults the place the employee used to work or using the term "we" rather than "they" when referring to a former employer.

"These unemployed people have something to cling to by having had very positive associations with their employer in the past," Tosti-Kharas said. "If you never had a positive association with your employer, now you're out of a job and you don't have something positive in your past to make you feel better."

As part of the study, Tosti-Kharas surveyed nearly 1,200 employed and unemployed workers. The unemployed professionals answered questions designed to measure their psychological well-being, self-esteem, continued identification with the former company and their judgment of the reason for their job loss.

The research shows the unemployed maintained a strong sense of self in relation to their former companies, a sense which appeared to offset the isolation that is common during a job loss, leading to an overall higher sense of well-being.

"It's well known that when an employee strongly identifies with the organization they work for, they're more likely to go above and beyond and be engaged in their work, which is great for the well-being of individuals and organizations," Tosti-Kharas said. "But that sense of individual well-being had never been assumed to extend to former employees."

The study's results, however, held only for those employees who attributed their job loss to themselves or their position in the company, not those who blamed the company itself.

Tosti-Kharas noted that the mental benefits the unemployed workers enjoyed resulted from their own perceptions about themselves, not from a continued social connection or interaction with former co-workers. In addition, the study found that the workers' positive outlook and self-esteem extended to their job search as well.

"It's all mental," she added. "It's a question of how much is your former organization still a part of who you are and how you define yourself as a person."

The study, which was funded by the Management Department of the NYU Stern School of Business, appears in the current edition of the Journal of Managerial Psychology.

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Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.