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Lead Your Team Personal Growth

Does Unemployment Change Your Personality?

Does Unemployment Change Your Personality?
Credit: Vandoome/Shutterstock

It's not just your attitude that can take a turn for the worse when you're out of work. Your personality can also change, new research finds.

Unemployment can change peoples' core personalities, making some less conscientious, agreeable and open, which can in turn make it more difficult to find another job, according to a study recently published by the American Psychological Association.

Christopher Boyce, one of the study's authors and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom, said this challenges the idea that people's personalities are "fixed." It also shows that external factors, such as unemployment, can have a large effect on personality.

"This indicates that unemployment has wider psychological implications than previously thought," Boyce said in a statement.

For the study, researchers examined five different personality traits — conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion and openness — in a sample of 6,769 German adults. Of the group, which took a standard personality test at two points over a four-year period, 210 were unemployed for anywhere from one to four years during the experiment, while another 251 were unemployed for less than a year before getting jobs. [Long-Term Unemployment Takes Toll on the Worker Psyche ]

The study's authors discovered that while men initially exhibited an increase in agreeableness during unemployment, those levels diminished over time. In the long run, agreeableness in out-of-work men was lower than in men who were employed the entire time. Women, however, never saw a bump in agreeableness, as it simply declined with each year of unemployment.

"In early unemployment stages, there may be incentives for individuals to behave agreeably in an effort to secure another job or placate those around them, but in later years, when the situation becomes endemic, such incentives may weaken," the study's authors wrote.

The research also revealed that the longer men spent without jobs, the less conscientious they became. In comparison, women became more conscientious in the early and late stages of unemployment, but experienced a slump in the middle of the study period.

The study's authors said this is because women may regain some conscientiousness by pursuing nonwork-related activities.

The research also found that unemployed men experienced a decrease in openness the longer they were unemployed, while women showed severe reductions in openness in the second and third years of unemployment, but rebounded in year four.

Boyce said the research suggests that the unemployed may be unfairly stigmatized as a result of unavoidable personality changes, which potentially creates a more difficult landscape for them to land new jobs.

"Public policy therefore has a key role to play in preventing adverse personality change in society through both lower unemployment rates and [by] offering greater support for the unemployed," he said. "Policies to reduce unemployment are therefore vital not only to protect the economy but also to enable positive personality growth in individuals."

The study was co-authored by Alex Wood, of the University of Stirling and University of Manchester; Michael Daly, of the University of Stirling; and Constantine Sedikides, of the University of Southampton.

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.

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