Mental health gradually bounces back after a layoff: study

What happens to people when they are let go from the company? They are forced to engage in an 'an unfolding task that is highly autonomous, self-organized, loosely structured, and ill-defined.'

What happens to people when they are let go from the company? They are forced to engage in an "an unfolding task that is highly autonomous, self-organized, loosely structured, and ill-defined," say researchers in a new study. But, overall, they begin to adapt, and those with self-management capabilities tend to fare better in the long run.

Losing one's job is a real downer, but a new study of 177 jobseekers, featured in the The Academy of Management Journal, finds that a person's state of mind gradually improves after the initial shock wears off and time goes on -- even if unemployment persists.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers led by Connie Wanberg of the University of Minnesota, is interesting on several levels: it provides insights to those involved in employment or outplacement counseling, and it provides some self-awareness to anyone who's had to pound the pavements at some point in their careers. But the study also illuminates how closely entrepreneurial qualities are linked to positive traits of jobseekers, and this is important in an economy that increasingly is built on entrepreneurial innovation.

The study finds that after the initial nosedive a person's sense of worth takes immediately following a layoff, his or her mental health gradually bounces back over the next 10 to 12 weeks.

However, it may tick downward -- but only slightly -- if unemployment persists beyond that point: "Individuals begin to feel burned out and frustrated as they encounter repeated rejections," the study points out, perhaps understating the obvious.

The researchers surveyed the ebb and flow of emotions among 177 jobless people over the course of up to 20 weeks. The study found that participants spent less time in job search as their unemployment spell continued, with hours per week declining from about 17 at the outset to about 14 at week 15.

A conclusion from the research: those individuals with a strong sense of internal motivation weathered the downtime more readily than others.  Job-seekers who "had a zest for learning, growth, and personal mastery" were more likely to fare better in the unemployment phase than what the study refers to as "avoidance-oriented" individuals "whose personality was geared toward defensiveness and avoidance of failure."

This personal mastery enables individuals to pursue new opportunities in a well-management and systematic way, while maintaining that sometimes elusive positive attitude required to move forward. As the study's authors observe: "Looking for a job is an unfolding task that is highly autonomous, self-organized, loosely structured, and ill-defined. Individuals must decide on their own how and how often to search, and they rarely receive feedback about the effectiveness of the job-search activities and the strategies they are using."

Interestingly enough, the successful qualities that the researchers identified in jobseekers map closely to the qualities of entrepreneurs need to get ahead in their worlds as well. Is not the typical entrepreneur's day a also "an unfolding task that is highly autonomous, self-organized, loosely structured, and ill-defined," with no feedback?.

In many ways, seeking new employment opportunities is the same as seeking new business opportunities, requiring not only the same positive mental attitude, but also the same tools, such as social networking skills. In today's and tomorrow's economy, individuals will go through many jobs, as well as many different careers. Flexibility, a willingness to learn, communication skills, and embracing new technology tools are essential, whether you seek a new job or a new client.

All in all, many of the individuals in the study were able to move on to new opportunities -- 72% found new employment during the course of the study.

(Photo: Missouri Department of Labor.)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com