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.

Is Your Leader Giving You The Freedom You Need?

By: Keaton Fletcher

Findings from a recently published meta-analysis (a method of combining the findings from many different smaller studies) by Gavin SlempMargaret KernKent Patrick, and Richard Ryan suggest that good leaders support your autonomy in the workplace.

Leadership has long been a useful tool for organizations to motivate and manage the workforce. Perspectives on leadership have shifted from what rewards and punishments a leader should use, to how can a leader facilitate workers’ own motivation. One perspective on leadership behaviors is that of leader autonomy support. The idea behind leader autonomy support is that a good leader should recognize that workers have their own perspectives, should encourage the workers to be self-starters, and give employees opportunities to make decisions and have input. Further, leaders should avoid the use of rewards and punishments or controlling language/communication, to help the workers feel empowered and motivated to make their own decisions. 

The perspective of leader autonomy support is tied to a main motivational theory, self-determination theory, which suggests that humans have three needs beyond those for survival: a need for autonomy, a need for competence, and a need for relatedness. Work can help people meet each of these needs, particularly if it is well designed and workers have leaders who support these ideals. Leader autonomy support has been shown to relate to people’s perceived ability to meet each of these needs through work. In turn, meeting these needs then predicts workers’ autonomous motivation. In other words, if you feel like your work is fulfilling and meeting your needs, you are more motivated to work because you like it and you value it, not because someone else is telling you that you have to, or because you need the rewards (e.g., pay) it provides. Workers who are more highly autonomously motivated, in turn, experience a wide range of positive outcomes. They have higher levels of well-being, work engagement, and lower levels of general distress.

So, what is the takeaway? Leaders in the workplace should be helping you to motivate yourself by giving you opportunities to act autonomously. This is why everyone complains when they feel like their boss is micromanaging, or when they feel like there is no room to grow or work on projects they care about. Having the autonomy to determine, to some extent, when, where, how, and what work you do can help keep you engaged and happy with your work. This will be particularly important as people continue to live longer, and staying in the workforce until one’s 70s or 80s is optional, but can be valuable both for the individual (if the work is meeting your needs) and society.

Network Research Highlight: The Benefits of Decent Work

By: Keaton Fletcher

Although most people groan and take a bit longer getting ready for work Monday mornings, lamenting the short weekend, David BlusteinJonas Masdonati, and Jérôme Rossier, suggest maybe we should count our blessings instead since work is a key component of the human condition. In a recent report, Blustein and colleagues highlight the psychological factors that work plays in the human experience. By calling upon vocational and industrial-organizational psychological foundations, the research team identifies ways in which work can actually better people’s lives.

Blustein and colleagues elaborate on the notion of decent work, the idea that jobs that better individual, family, and community health and well-being are inherently decent. Research has consistently pointed toward the lack of a job as a cause of mental health symptoms and increased domestic violence. Obtaining work, particularly decent work, can help minimize these negative outcomes. In the modern economy, however, Blustein and colleagues suggest that precarious work (i.e., work with no clear long-term trajectory, inadequate benefits, or minimal opportunities for skill development) is becoming more common, and may not carry with it the same benefits of decent work. In fact, evidence suggests that precarious work, too, may be associated with mental and physical health problems.

One of the main psychological phenomena Blustein and colleagues focus on in their report is that of identity and self-concept. In the United States, at least, it is common when meeting someone to be asked “What do you do for a living?” or “What are you?” These questions highlight just how closely tied our work is to our understanding of ourselves, and our own identities. People who are involuntarily excluded from the workforce face a challenge of establishing this identity, and may struggle to maintain a positive global self-concept (overall beliefs about oneself). Those who voluntarily step back from remunerated work find themselves having to explain and justify their choice and new identity to others, and, possibly, to themselves.

It may not only be people outside of the paid workforce that lack the benefits to self-concept and self-esteem that work provides. Individuals in precarious or indecent work may also not reap these benefits. Those who change jobs or occupations frequently (an increasingly common phenomenon), or those who work in occupations that are not socially valued or desirable may not be able to easily identify with their work, or incorporate their work identity into their self-concept. It can be challenging, then, to reap the psychosocial benefits of work. To see improved individual well-being society must find ways to aid in the creation and solidification of identity and self-concept for those in non-traditional, precarious, or indecent work, or perhaps make decent work more accessible.

If you are interested in decent work or related initiatives, follow the links below:
UNESCO Chair of Lifelong Guidance and Counseling
International Labour Organization’s Decent Work Agenda
United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 8)

Is Work Killing People?

By: Keaton Fletcher

In a recent interview, Jeffrey Pfeffer author of Dying for a Paycheck, paints a dark picture of the modern workforce that boils down to four words: work is killing people. In his book and subsequent interview, Pfeffer echoes Robert Chapman’s argument that work is the source of stress, and stress causes chronic disease which plays a major role in the current healthcare crisis. Working from this proposed link, Pfeffer highlights a variety of related topics. First, he speaks briefly about social pollution and corporate sustainability with regard to human capital. Specifically, he references a parallel drawn by Nuria Chincilla between how companies are held to regulations regarding environmental pollution, and that in order to be sustainable in the long run, corporations will soon need to be held to similar regulations regarding how they treat their employees. Pfeffer argues that unlike the environment, humans are seen as agentic and able to remove themselves from harmful workplaces, thus we do not see similar regulations regarding social pollution. However, Pfeffer makes the point that it is difficult to change jobs, and this taxing task can be even more daunting if one is already exhausted from work. Pfeffer projects that for things to change, there will be a large class-action lawsuit, similar to those filed against tobacco companies, regarding the negative effects of work environments on health and well-being. He also suggests that issues such as presenteeism (showing up to work despite being ill) in and of themselves should give corporate leaders pause, given that they represent serious threats to organizational bottom lines. Click here for the full interview conducted by Dylan Walsh, published by Stanford Business Insights.

Should You Try to Balance Family and Work?

By: Keaton Fletcher

One thing most working adults struggle with is balancing the demands of work and family. Oftentimes we find ourselves needing to be in two places at once, or thinking about work when we should be focusing on what our partner is saying, or treating our employees like our children. All of these experience of conflict carry with them negative outcomes (e.g., increased risk of cardiovascular disease, decreased job and life satisfaction). But, modern industrial-organizational psychologists have moved past exploring how the interface between work and family can be harmful, instead focusing on its benefits, or how it can be managed.

In a recent interview with Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of Axel SpringerJeff Bezos (founder of Amazon and Blue Origin) covered the history of Amazon and Jeff Bezos’s career. Interestingly, his story both started and finished with the importance of family. Bezos credits his parents, grandfather, and wife for his success. He shared a story of how his wife supported his career transition from stable investment banker to tech startup, highlighting the importance of that support. At the end of their discussion, however, Bezos said “This work-life harmony thing is what I try to teach young employees and actually senior executives at Amazon too. But especially the people coming in. I get asked about work-life balance all the time. And my view is, that’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off. And the reality is, if I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy. And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. It actually is a circle; it’s not a balance.” So what is the difference between balance and, as Bezos puts it, work-life harmony?

When looking at the positive side of the work-family interface, two distinct ideas arise: work-family balance and work-family facilitation. Work-family balance is a newer idea and has typically been defined as meeting the expectations in both work and family domains. Unlike the absence of work-family conflict, this perspective of work-family balance suggests that you are balanced to the degree that the primary stakeholders in both domains (e.g., your partner, children, coworkers, superiors) feel that you are meeting the expectations of that domain. You may still have conflict, but as long as you are meeting your expectations, which requires you to be actively engaged in both domains, then you are experiencing balance. What we see regarding balance, for example, is that when faced with multiple work-family conflicts, people will often switch role they choose to fulfill. So, if you have to leave work early to pick up a sick child from school, you may skip family dinner to complete a report on time. 

Work-family facilitation, on the other hand, looks at how your engagement in one role can help your engagement in the other. How does having a family help you be a better employee? How does having a work team help you be a better parent? Research suggests that, as Bezos points out, positive experiences in one domain tend to spill over into the other; so a good day at work often translates to a good evening with the family and vice versa. So, is Bezos right? Is it better to focus on facilitation rather than balance? Answer: both are important and intrinsically linked.