Personality is often assumed to be enduring or stable, particularly from age 14 to 77. That it is part of who you inherently are and is generally unchangeable across situations. However, studies show that personalities can evolve. For instance, average self-control, emotional stability, warmth, and self-confidence can increase as people age, with the greatest change observed between 20 and 40 years old.
Work experience and personality
A new study conducted by Lena Wang, Senior Lecturer in Management, RMIT University, and colleagues that job insecurity and work experiences can also shape one’s personality. For instance, exposed to more autonomy at work increases a person’s ability to cope with unpredictable and new situations. On the other hand, a stressful or demanding job can make a person less conscientious and more neurotic. Conscientiousness is a personality trait of being diligent or careful while neuroticism is one of the Big Five high-order personalities. People who score high on neuroticism are more likely than average to be moody and likely to experience feelings of frustration, anger, fear, worry, guilt, jealousy, and loneliness.
For their research, the team used data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA), a household-based national survey that gathers data from a representative and a large sample of Australians every year. Some of the questions asked to the respondents include how secure they feel their job is. Other questions were meant to assess their personality traits. Since the data tracks the same individuals as far as possible, it allows the researchers to look at the individual changes over time.
From 1,046 respondents working in a range of professions and occupations, the team analyzed nine years’ worth of data. During years 1, 5, and 9 (every four years), respondents completed a personality measure. They were asked to describe their personality against certain adjectives, like “creative,” “orderly,” “moody,” “warm,” and “talkative.” These adjectives reflect where they sit relative to five key personality traits, such as conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, extraversion, and neuroticism.
The team examined how respondents’ chronic job insecurity in the preceding years, such as during years 1 to 4 and 5 to 8, predicted the change in their personality after the experience. To establish the impact of job insecurity among participants, the researchers used to control for other job characteristics, such as job demands and job autonomy.
Effects of chronic job insecurity
Job insecurity or the overall concern about the continued existence of the job in the future adversely affects a person’s job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Just as unemployment has health consequences, so does job insecurity. Regarding mental health, it has been linked with loss of self-esteem, minor psychiatric symptoms, anxiety, and psychosomatic symptoms. Regarding physical health, job insecurity has been linked with lower levels of self-reported health, increased incidence rates of hypertension, myocardial death, coronary heart disease, and increase morbidity.
In the recent study, the researchers found that those who experience job insecurity for several consecutive years became less conscientious, less agreeable, and less emotionally stable. Wang and colleagues said that chronic job insecurity can cause a person to become tense, depressed, irritable, and anxious. Job insecurity is already worrying but when it is felt for a long time, it can make a person feel as if they are unable to escape the situation. Because of it, they are more likely to be neurotic or more depressed over time with obvious impacts on their family and personal relationships, and even their professional relationships.
Reduced conscientiousness and agreeableness
The team said when people are constantly worried about the continuity of their employment, they are likely to become less motivated to set goals, reliably achieve these goals, or put in an effort for the job. Those they work with also become affected because it won’t be easy to maintain the motivation and productivity of these employees.
A person with a high level of agreeableness in a personality test is usually tactful, friendly, and warm. They get along well with others and have an optimistic view of human nature. At work, they are inclined in helping, cooperating, and sympathizing with others. In short, they are the ones who are good at creating harmonious relationships. However, when they face a potential threat of chronic job insecurity, it can change their focus to be more on themselves instead of others around them. It can affect their standing as a likable or positive team member at work and this change in personality may also be observed at home.
Affecting personality growth
The Australian researchers added that the three personality traits (emotional stability, conscientiousness, and agreeableness) that are most affected by chronic job insecurity are also most associated with healthy personality growth. As we mature and age, we become more emotionally stable, more conscientious, and more agreeable. With chronic job insecurity, it can stunt the healthy growth of said personalities.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are 921,800 unemployed people in Australia as of August 20, a decrease of 6.8% in the unemployment rate from July 2020. Employment also increased from 12,472,400 in July to 12,583,400 in August.
Last February, a month after the pandemic broke out, 12.98 million people were still employed. Of these, around 9.1% were underemployed. The majority (1.1 million) of them worked part-time. Of those underemployed, 5.3% said they did not take steps to look for work or render work for more hours, 39.1% said they looked at job ads on Internet, newspaper, and noticeboards, 32.5% wrote, phoned, or applied in-person to an employer for work, and 23.8% contacted their friends or relatives to look for more work. Some had an interview with an employer (16.1%), checked or registered with a “jobactive” Australia provider (8.0%), and took steps to purchase or start-up their own business (4.5%).
Job insecurity and a sense of loss of control have great potential to affect the health of populations. However, negative thinking can also be reduced through deliberate practice and conscious awareness. Searching for solutions and focusing on things one can control are some of the ways to address job insecurity and mitigate the negative effect on personality over time.