How Losing Your Job Can Lead to an Identity Crisis

There’s a reason we feel a little lost when we’re between work.

Losing a job is tough for many reasons. Money is an obvious factor but unemployment can also make us feel like we’ve lost a part of our identity, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

Researchers surveyed 377 people with full-time jobs (both white-and-blue-collar workers) three times over six months. Participants answered questions about their jobs and job security and their overall health and happiness.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

As Science of Us explains in a piece about the study, the more insecure a participant felt about keeping their job, the more their well-being declined. And while it’s not shocking that well-being is affected by the threat of unemployment, the interesting part of the study findings is how strongly social identity is tied to employment.

A blog post about the findings from the Association for Psychological Science points out that when we’re securely employed, our identity as an “employed person” doesn’t seem so important because there’s little chance it’ll change. But when faced with the threat of losing your job, people may become “increasingly aware of being identified as part of an alternative, stigmatized out-group, the unemployed,” according to the post.

“No matter how you feel about your specific job…you still feel like a working person so long as you have it,” Science of Us writer Cari Romm wrote, adding, “if it goes away, so does that piece of how you understand yourself.”

Read more about the study on Science of Us.