Emotions During Employment Gaps

By: Haleigh Streak

In the modern economy, with the rise of automation and gig work, employment gaps are common. These gaps may be voluntary (i.e. caretaking for new children or aging parents/grandparents, spouse relocation, etc.), or involuntary (i.e. downsizing and termination). No matter the nature, employment gaps signify considerable interruptions in career paths, and carry with them significant emotional strain. A recent article (Dust et al., 2018) published in Journal of Organizational Behavior provides compelling evidence for one factor that can help navigate the complications and stress associated with employment gaps: emotional intelligence.

The international research team (Scott Dust, Joseph Rode, Marne Arthaud-Day, Satoris Howes, & Aarti Ramaswami) examined employment quality following reemployment, in the forms of person-organization fit and person-job fit. The former entails alignment of employees’ personal values with the organization’s values, and the latter involves the pairing of employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities with the demands of their specific jobs. Results from the 10-year field study of 157 alumni of a large American Midwestern university suggest self-esteem can help explain the relationship between facilitation-based emotional intelligence and employment gaps. In other words, individuals who are especially able to harness information about their emotions to enhance their thinking tend to have higher self-esteem which may actually help reduce the length of an employment gap. 

Furthermore, the researchers found that the ability to distinguish between emotions and to understand their causes may protect individuals from the effects of employment gap length on subsequent person-job fit. In general, as a gap in employment lasts longer, an individual’s fit with the new job following reemployment tends to decrease—this may not be the case, however, if you are particularly able to understand your emotions and what they mean in the context of your life. 

The article suggests that effectively understanding and coping with stress and emotions plays a pivotal role in managing unemployment. Those who have a better understanding of emotions may be better at coping and may have a heightened sense of control, which in turn, helps to find higher quality employment following an employment gap.

Generally, emotional intelligence is seen as an inherent, relatively stable quality about a person, but there is evidence (e.g., Slaski & Cartwright, 2003) that we can improve our emotional intelligence. Thus, individuals who strengthen their emotional intelligence may find that their gains do not just benefit their short-term interpersonal and professional experiences, but rather, their abilities to manage their career paths and any employment gaps they may face.

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