For some folks, unemployment—or funemployment—is a great time to organize your life, pick up some long-lost hobbies, and get yourself back on your feet. But as time goes on, joblessness may bring about personality changes that make it harder to get back in the workforce, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
In the study, researchers at the University of Stirling gave 6,769 German adults personality tests that gauged five traits (conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion, and openness) at two points over the course of four years (2006-2009). Among the participants, 210 were unemployed for one to four years during the experiment. Another 251 were unemployed for under a year before finding work again.
"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," said author Christopher J. Boyce, Ph.D. And notably, unemployment has "wider psychological implications than previously thought."
Generally, the unemployed participants' agreeableness declined over time, but there was a clear gender split. Men’s agreeableness actually increased the first two years of unemployment, but then declined after two years. Meanwhile, women’s agreeableness simply got worse with each passing year of unemployment.
When it came to conscientiousness (being thoughtful, careful, and thorough), men became less conscientious the longer they were unemployed, whereas women were more conscientious at the beginning and end of unemployment, but less conscientious in the middle of the study.
Both men's and women's openness also declined over time (albeit at different rates), but as with conscientiousness, women's openness rebounded toward the end of their unemployment.
Of course, being less agreeable or conscientious or open isn’t exactly ideal when you’re trying to prove your enthusiasm and competency to a potential employer, adding to the reality that unemployment is a frustrating cycle of stress. With this in mind, Boyce pointed out the importance of looking at unemployment as more than an economic issue: "Public policy therefore has a key role to play in preventing adverse personality change in society through both lower unemployment rates and offering greater support for the unemployed."