Job Insecurity Can Change Your Personality for the Worse: Study
Fri, December 9, 2022

Job Insecurity Can Change Your Personality for the Worse: Study


People exposed to job insecurity for more than four years are less emotionally stable, less conscientious, and less agreeable, a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology finds.

In their study titled “Effects of chronic job insecurity on Big Five personality change,” the authors emphasized that job insecurity is linked to a decrease in conscientiousness and agreeableness and an increase in neuroticism. In psychology and development, neuroticism is one of the Big 5 personality traits and it is defined as the tendency toward self-doubt, depression, anxiety, and other negative feelings.


The Big 5 personality traits

The Big 5 personality traits are the five core traits that drive behavior. These include (1) openness to experience, (2) conscientiousness, (3) extraversion-introversion, (4) agreeableness, and (5) neuroticism. They are sometimes summed up as their acronyms OCEAN or CANOE. Every person manifests each of the five dimensions of personality to a degree or another, according to behavioral research platform Psychology Today.

Openness denotes receptivity to new experiences and ideas. People with a high level of openness are more likely to seek experiences, pay attention to inner feelings, and be comfortable with the unfamiliar. Conscientiousness reflects the tendency to be organized, hard-working, and responsible. It also has other facets, such as industriousness, reliability, responsibility, and self-control.  

Extraversion indicates how outgoing or social a person is. Introversion is the preference for solitary and subdued experiences. They do not fear or dislike others and they are neither plagued or shy by loneliness. They simply derive more pleasure and are more energized by their inner life compared to social events. Agreeableness is described as cooperative, friendly, kind, and polite. People high in agreeableness are altruistic, affectionate, and more trusting.

Of all core personality traits, neuroticism is also sometimes called low emotional stability. Those with neurotic dispositions are prone to self-consciousness, loneliness, and mood disorders. Traits of neuroticism include tense and being moody.



The short- and long-term consequences of job insecurity

Job insecurity, in an employment context, is a condition wherein a person lacks the assurance that their job will remain stable. Studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between job insecurity and mental health impairment.

RMIT University’s School of Management Dr. Lena Wang, who co-authored the study, said that we traditionally thought only of the short-term consequences of job insecurity. For example, it hurts the self-esteem, physical health, and well-being of the person. Their study, however, found that job insecurity alters a person over time. This is the long-term consequence of job insecurity and the person himself may not be even aware of it.


Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey

The authors used the data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, which is a panel study commonly used by international researchers in the fields of social policy, social science, and economics. Dr. Wang and colleagues focused on data about personality and job security for 1,046 employees for more than nine years. They then applied the Big Five personality framework.

The result of their study shows that long-term job insecurity affects the first three traits, relating to the person’s tendency to reliably achieve their goals, cope with stress, and get along with other people. Wang has also said via medical platform Medical Xpress that their findings went against the previous job insecurity assumptions. For instance, some may think that insecure jobs increase productivity because employees will work harder to maintain their jobs yet this is not the case with the HILDA data. Instead, it suggests that people may shy away and withdraw their efforts from building positive and strong working relationships because of chronic job insecurity. Consequently, it will undermine their productivity at work.


Types of job insecurity

Leeds University Business School’s Professor Chia-Huei Wu, who is the lead author of the study, said that some types of job insecurity nowadays include jobs threatened by automation, casual work, positions in line for redundancy, and short-term contracts. Some people feel overwhelmed by changing the nature of their jobs. Wu believes that although there are jobs that will indeed be replaced because of automation, this also means that new jobs will be generated. This is why employers also need to possess the ability to reduce that perception of job insecurity from their employees. For example, they can invest in professional training, skills, and development or they can give them career guidance.

The previous study has revealed that insecure jobs, such as underemployment, casual work, contract work, and labor hire practices, is increasing worldwide. The HILDA data itself covers professionals who were asked how secure they feel in their jobs.



Job insecurity: statistics

Another study titled “Association of Job Insecurity with Health Risk Factors and Poorer Health in American Workers” found that job insecure people are more likely males, multiracial adults, who are between 45 and 64 years old, with less than a college degree, and racial minorities.

In an analysis of 17,440 people in the National Health Interview Survey in the US that monitored the health of the country since 1957, 33% of respondents reported job insecurity. Males are 14% more likely than females to experience serious job insecurity. Female workers who were job insecure have higher rates of work-life imbalance, diabetes, asthma, and worsening of general health in the last 12 months. They also have pain disorders, such as neck pain or migraine.

People who reported job insecurity were likely to smoke and are obese, don’t engage in regular physical exercise, and have a short sleep duration.



In Italy, the region with the highest percentage of employees who were job insecure in 2017 is Calabria with 9.6% of employees felt that they are likely to lose their job in the next 6 months. This is followed by Basilicata (9.4%), Sicily (9.4%), Apulia (9.2%), Sardinia (8.9%), Abruzzo (8.4%), Campania (8.4%), Umbria (7.3%), Marche (6.8%), Marche (6.8%), Lazio (6.7%), Emilia-Romagna (6.4%), Tuscany (6.4%), Friuli-Venezia Guilia (6.4%), Aosta Valley (6.3%), Liguria (6.1%), Molise (5.9%), Veneto (5.6%), Lombardy (5.1%), Piedmont (4.6%), and Trenito-South Tyrol (4.2%).

There are effective measures that employers can use to tackle the fear of job loss in their workplace. This includes improving the communication between workers and management, creating a program that will recognize the employees’ accomplishments, reducing uncertain or conflicting job responsibilities, and giving opportunities for workers to participate in company decisions that will affect their work.