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Assisting unemployed individuals

Dr. Simon Moss

Misguided practices that are intended to assist unemployed individuals

During periods of economic uncertainty, the only apparent certainty is that some employees will be retrenched or dismissed. Even if the unemployment rate does not rise substantially, economic turbulence incites organizations to restructure their operations, culminating in downsizing and redundancies. Individuals who are retrenched or dismissed often feel devastated during the ensuing period.

Even more disturbing, however, is the possibility that many of these individuals will experience more enduring forms of depression, shame, and anxiety unless they receive suitable, rather than misguided, support. Unfortunately, despite the admirable intentions of many friends, relatives, counsellors, and government agencies, many misconceptions abound& unemployed individuals frequently receive forms of support and guidance that inadvertently amplify their shame and offset their confidence in the future.

Overestimating the benefits of incentives and penalties

Most individuals apply two approaches to motivate and support anyone who is unemployed. Sometimes, they experiment with carrots and sticks-tangible incentives, such as money, or punitive reactions, such as reprimands. Alternatively, they attempt to instill a sense of confidence and inspiration in anyone who is unemployed, attempting to mobilize the inherent enthusiasm and passion that often remains dormant until ignited.

Both of these approaches, to some extent at least, are essential. Nevertheless, many friends or practitioners in this context demonstrate two key misconceptions. First, individuals tend to underestimate the relative importance of confidence and inspiring, directing their attention inordinately towards tangible incentives and penalties. That is, at least occasionally, they perceive uplifting, tender, and nebulous attempts to inspire unemployed individuals as na?ve and futile.

Indeed, this cynicism is entirely natural. When unemployed individuals are observed languishing on a couch throughout most of the day, their friends, family, or practitioners unsurprisingly assume they are inherently lazy or indolent. Likewise, when unemployed individuals are observed frolicking with friends on work days, naturally they are perceived as quintessentially irresponsible, unwilling to satisfy their obligations to improve society.

In other words, at least in some instances, unemployment is ascribed to the immutable flaws and deficiencies of the individuals themselves. Indeed, at first glance, evidence seems to corroborate this perspective. Some individuals seem to be remain unemployed, lazy, or irresponsible despite years of support, guidance, and assistance from friends and government agencies.

Sources of this bias towards incentives and penalties

Scientific research, however, shows the assumption that such individuals are inherently lazy, irresponsible, or egocentric is often fallacious. To illustrate, over many years, scholars have shown that individuals tend to underestimate the contextual impediments that might obstruct the success and diligence of another person. When individuals themselves feel dejected or lethargic, they impute these emotions to transient or contextual impediments-physical illness, conflicts with partners, unjust systems, or a host of other factors. However, when someone else seems dejected or lethargic, they overlook these impediments and instead ascribe such behaviour to enduring traits, like laziness. This bias is especially prevalent when the contextual obstacles are uncommon rather than rife.

In contrast, scientists have shown that most individuals underestimate the capacity of someone else to change when exposed to a suitable environment. Surprisingly for example, research has shown that even the basic personality of individuals-the extent to which they are extroverted, sociable, stable, and resilient-can improve fundamentally if they work in satisfying jobs.

Many of the policies and practices that pervade society reinforce the bias that underlying traits, like laziness and responsibility, are inherently immutable rather than flexible. First, the media often refer to enduring traits, like "bludgers", and references to such traits have been shown to amplify the misconception that fundamental personality attributes are permanent. Even welfare agencies often apply sweeping classifications, like "Disability category", which have been shown, albeit inadvertently, to fortify this assumption.

Furthermore, many programs and policies that have been instituted to support unemployed individuals-initiatives that were designed to instil confidence and inspiration-have been fruitless. Understandably, as a consequence of these failed endeavours, many practitioners in this field, as well as numerous individuals in society, have formed the opinion that some unemployed individuals can never be inspired& they need to be coerced into work.

These failed initiatives, however, do not actually demonstrate that some unemployed individuals are inherently lazy, selfish, or irresponsible. In all instances, these endeavours have failed because, despite suitable intentions, they were fundamentally flawed. That is, these endeavours entailed practices that, although intuitively suitable, are actually damaging.

Meaningless jobs

First, government agencies, as well as supportive friends and family, often encourage individuals to apply for jobs that do not necessarily align with their skills or interests. They maintain that unemployed individuals should return to the market as soon as possible, even if the job is not entirely suitable or desirable, as a means to restore and reinstate their confidence.

Practitioners and friends alike, however, are sometimes oblivious to the subtle, but adverse and consequential, repercussions of this perspective. To illustrate, when this position is adopted, unemployed individuals are inadvertently discouraged from directing their attention and hopes to future aspirations. Their attention shifts from meaningful hopes and aspirations to immediate responsibilities and obligations. Their sense of purpose and meaning dissipates from their work and life.

As scientists have shown, when this sense of meaning subsides, individuals are less likely to feel engaged and absorbed in their work-regardless of the role. Initially, for a few weeks, they can maintain their discipline and effort, despite this sense of disengagement. They remain dedicated and conscientious. However, after several weeks or months, even the most disciplined and diligent individuals tend to experience burnout when their work does not feel meaningful or important.

Indeed, if the work does not feel meaningful, and the job does not align with their key interests or skills, their performance also seems to decline. Even disciplined and intelligence employees do not seem to flourish in jobs that fail to exploit their passions and abilities. Failures in straightforward jobs-roles that merely intended to reinstate their confident-can damage confidence and motivation over extended periods of time.

A variety of other practices, although intended to inspire unemployed individuals, usually damages their confidence and inspiration. In most welfare systems, seemingly trivial errors and shortfalls can thwart the benefits that unemployed individuals receive. This possibility impinges on the mindset of individuals. That is, the need to minimize errors often evokes an unproductive cognitive state.

A focus on shortfalls

Specifically, these individuals experience the motivation to preclude shortfalls, called a prevention focus, rather than maximize progress, called a promotion focus. This motivational state, although adaptive in some settings, tends to impede creativity and flexibility. The capacity of these individuals to consider alternative courses of action-alternatives that could augment the likelihood of securing a suitable job-had been shown to dissipate.

Choice when stressed Third, welfare and support structures do not grant unemployed individuals with a sense of choice and agency in the most stressful contexts. To illustrate, if unemployed individuals do not satisfy their obligations, such as fail to supply the necessary documentation, the agency might impose a penalty, such as attenuate their benefits. Although this penalty might be reasonable, the unemployed individuals, who are likely to experience significant stress, are not granted a variety of options on how they should proceed. They might be told they must complete this documentation or their benefits will be suspended indefinitely.

Such practices, regrettably, have been shown to impair the resilience of individuals over an extended period of time, and hence compromise their wellbeing and motivation. That is, when individuals are granted a sense of choice while stressed-perhaps the capacity to select which of several presentations that would like to attend-they learn to associate feelings of autonomy and anxiety with each other. Therefore, in response to stressful events, a feeling of autonomy and power is soon evoked, their anxiety diminishes, and their wellbeing improves.

Indeed, this diminution of anxiety has been shown to activate a specific circuit in the brain, called extension memory. This circuit tends to promote engagement, improve decision making, foster creativity, augment flexibility, encourage cooperation, and increase integrity-many of the key facets of effective employees. Hence, stifling choice, especially when individuals are most stressed, will provoke many enduring drawbacks.

Assistance when stressed

Finally, in some systems, unemployed individuals must forgo all benefits if they fail to comply with some key obligations. Again, although this response might seem appropriate, some unfortunate and enduring psychological consequences tend to ensue.

In particular, these individuals feel somewhat abandoned or neglected from the government agency. This sense of detachment from a practitioner or agency ignites a series of adverse responses. Individuals experience a psychological state, called insecure attachment, in which they, often unconsciously, associate stress and anxiety with the absence of support. In the future, when other difficulties arise-unpaid bills or personal conflicts, for example-their anxiety and agitation will tend to last longer that usual. Extension memory, the system that promote engagement, creativity, flexibility, and cooperation for example, tends to be inhibited. Their wellbeing declines and their performance drops.

If society remains oblivious to these complications, unemployment now could translate to deficiencies in engagement, wellbeing, innovation, productivity, and integrity many years into the future. Carrots and sticks are suitable, but should be used only to encourage behaviors that foster--not preclude--resilience, confidence, and inspiration.

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Last Update: 6/17/2016