Unemployed workers who continue to identify with their former employer report higher self-esteem even after being fired or laid off from the company, according to a new study.
“These unemployed people have something to cling to by having had very positive associations with their employer in the past,” said San Francisco State University’s Jennifer Tosti-Kharas, Ph.D., who conducted the study.
“If you never had a positive association with your employer, now you’re out of a job and you don’t have something positive in your past to make you feel better.”
Tosti-Kharas surveyed 1,191 people, recruiting participants through the alumni offices of various universities.
She queried the participants in June and December of 2008, and separated them into two groups: 45 who were unemployed at the start of the study, and 41 who lost their jobs during the study. Workers who were self-employed, had willingly quit their jobs, or were employed throughout the study were discounted.
The unemployed workers, all highly educated and many who had worked in the financial industry, answered questions designed to measure their psychological well-being, self-esteem, continued identification with the company and their judgment of the reason for their job loss, the researcher explained.
She reported that those who strongly identified with their former employer reported feeling more confident and having a greater sense of purpose and belonging during their unemployment.
For example, when someone insulted their former employer, they reported it felt like a personal insult. When referring to the organization, they used the term “we” rather than “they.” This strong sense of self that was developed in relation to their company appeared to offset the isolation that is common during a job loss, according to Tosti-Kharas.
She noted that the results held only for those employees who attributed their job loss to themselves or their position in the company, rather than blaming the company itself.
“It’s well known that when an employee strongly identifies with the organization they work for, they’re more likely to go above and beyond and be engaged in their work, which is great for the well-being of individuals and organizations,” Tosti-Kharas said. “But that sense of individual well-being had never been assumed to extend to former employees.”
“It’s all mental,” she continued. “It’s a question of how much is your former organization still a part of who you are and how you define yourself as a person.”
Tosti-Kharas noted that the mental benefits the unemployed workers enjoyed were a result of their own perceptions about themselves, not necessarily a continued social connection or interaction with former co-workers. Their positivity and self-esteem extended to their job search as well, further showing links between well-being and success in finding a new job, she said.
The study was published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology.
Source: San Francisco State University