This is how an unstable job market has psychological risks

This is how an unstable job market has psychological risks

A negative feature that has been typically associated with many individual and social issues is insecurity. Not only does this affect your personal and professional relationships, but it also affects your health, fitness and personality. Job insecurity is often found impacting personality and individuals begin to develop issues of self-esteem and self-doubt.


Wu et al (2020), suggests job insecurity can have a fundamental impact on our personality as adults. Research shows individuals’ that continuously experience uncertainty on job security experience changes in personality. This raises a significant concern regarding the widespread increase in precarious employment.


Organizations can help mitigate the negative effect of chronic job insecurity on employees’ neuroticism, conscientiousness and agreeableness. Through offering emotional, social, and career support to employees to buffer their negative work experiences and attitudes resulting from job insecurity (Lee & Peccei, 2007). Such targeted interventions can ease employees’ negative emotional responses to their jobs, preventing a downward spiral toward personality change.



Job Insecurity and the personality effects

Job insecurity can have long term effects on a persons’ well-being, physical health and sense of self-esteem.  A study that surveyed nearly 400 employees at three points across 2014 suggested that pervasive job insecurity can have harmful effects on people’s well-being as well as their work performance. (Selenko et al, 2014)


When a persons’ employment is secure, their social identity as an ‘employed person’ may not explicitly come to mind very often. However, when a job loss becomes more apparent, people may begin to become more aware of being labelled as part of an alternative, stigmatized outgroup- ‘the unemployed’.


Researchers found a correlation between job insecurity and greater neuroticism and a decrease in agreeableness and conscientiousness. It was not a huge personality shift however it was meaningful and significant. Intriguingly, researchers were not focusing on those who were experiencing job insecurity, although some of them might have been.


Job insecurity is not just about unstable work, it also embodies perceptions of job insecurity due to increased outsourcing or company restructuring. The worries about an uncertain work market are not all about jobs either. A job can also give a sense of identity.


A 15-year longitudinal sample of more than 24,000 German individuals tracked life satisfaction before, during, and after periods of unemployment. It revealed that, on average, even after people found new jobs, they failed to fully recover to their former baseline levels of life satisfaction. The research results provide evidence for the relationships between job insecurity and its implications as an employed person.


Wu et al, (2020), highlighted that chronic job insecurity makes employees:

  • Become more prone to anxiety, are more tense, irritable, and depressed
  • Focus on their negative feelings, preventing them from paying attention to others and building harmonious social relationships
  • Become less motivated to set and achieve goals in an effective way


Research consequently illustrates that, when severe job insecurity takes place, this normative personality development cycle is affected. Possibly having a further impact on the success and health of individuals and bringing long-term costs to individuals, workplaces and society.


With the current high levels of unemployment related to COVID-19, these potential negative impacts need to be understood and addressed. As the job market suffers a strong downturn and we do not know when it will be recovered fully, the threat of chronic job insecurity could become severe.


Munodiwa Zvemhara is a consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm.

Phone +263 4 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or cell number +263 783168453 or email: or visit our website at

Munodiwa Zvemhara
This article was written by Munodiwa a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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