Avoiding burn-out in the job search

Amid renewed signs of global economic uncertainty and slowing growth, job security will be on the minds of many.

Anyone who has experienced losing a job, or knows someone who has, understands how stressful and emotionally draining the experience can be. When faced with unemployment, money worries are, understandably, topmost in an individual’s mind and a prime cause of stress.

But other factors also come into play that contribute to an emotional burnout associated with job loss and the pressure to find new work. Social exclusion arising from the stigma of being unemployed can deprive those seeking a job not only emotional support but importantly, instrumental support during the job search, engendering more stress.

Individuals who are more optimistic, hopeful and resilient – what psychologists term as having more psychological capital – are more resistant to a flagging spirit

Job seeking requires prolonged investment of resources with no guaranteed outcome. This strain is further compounded in a tight job market. Job seekers, especially those with financial difficulties, tend to overextend themselves by dividing their energies between looking for ways to alleviate their financial stress and looking for a job. Fatigue sets in quickly.

In turn, this fatigue reduces their focus and effort put into the job search, making the process more haphazard and disorganised and impairing the quality of their job search.

Frustration

With successive job rejections or lack of response to job applications, job seekers become increasingly frustrated, drained and demoralised. Doubt sets in and they become less confident, eventually leading them to settle for less ideal jobs – setting the stage for further frustration.

tiredThose caught in this downward spiral may find it hard to get out.

However, not everyone gets caught in this spiral. Individuals who are more optimistic, hopeful and resilient – what psychologists term as having more psychological capital – are more resistant to a flagging spirit to sustain themselves through the adverse unemployment phase.

At the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, I studied unemployed Singaporeans seeking managerial and professional positions; specifically the relationship between their financial difficulties, social exclusion and psychological capital arising from a job loss and the fatigue that ensues when looking for a new job, and the subsequent repercussions on the quality of their new job, intentions to quit and commitment to their new employer.

Participants were first surveyed when they were seeking employment. They also reported on their financial difficulty, loss of social contacts, and psychological capital and levels of fatigue they experienced.  A year later, they were surveyed again to ascertain the quality of their new job in terms of supervision, salary and career opportunities. They also gave feedback regarding how committed they were to their new employer and how likely they were to quit for another job.

Compromise

Indeed, Singaporeans who have financial difficulty and lost social contacts experienced more fatigue in their job search than those who had more financial resources or maintained their social network. Singaporeans who are less optimistic, hopeful and resilient reported more fatigue than those with more psychological capital.

ThinkAloud4And such fatigue has consequences. There is a decrement in the quality of jobs that individuals land themselves in. Singaporeans who are more drained by the job search essentially compromise by agreeing to be re-employed in jobs that are less than comparable to their previous jobs. The new jobs offer less attractive salaries, and fewer career opportunities. It is no wonder that such individuals are more likely to look for another employment within a year, and are less committed to their new employer.

The findings underscore the importance of keeping job seekers energized as fatigue experienced during a job search has long-term adverse consequences. To minimise fatigue, job seekers must have sufficient resources be it financial, temporal, social or psychological to help them tide over the search period and not be trapped in a downward spiral. Individuals have to build and accumulate these various types of resources, but particularly financial and social resources, to enhance their ability to cope with the stresses associated with job search.

Singaporeans must learn to save for such rainy days. It goes a long way towards building patience and confidence to land a more rewarding job. While students in primary schools are already being educated on financial prudence, such prudence must be further cultivated as these students grow into working adults.

Families and friends are the informal social network necessary for emotional support to encourage job seekers to push on and not settle for less. Learning not to belittle a family member who lost a job but to be supportive and encouraging help to uplift the flagging spirit.

Formally, career counselors and social workers must put in place intervention programmes to assist job seekers better manage their fatigue. Social foundations may extend financial assistance to those with financial difficulties with necessary safeguards put in place. Social activities can be organised for unemployed individuals to not only network but also provide a respite from job search.

Intervention programmes that build up confidence, optimism and resilience also go towards enhancing job seekers’ ability to cope with challenges associated with the job search process.

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