How do you measure your self-worth?
After enduring two brutal, pandemic-filled years, it now seems foolish for the world to have proudly concluded that things are finally going back to ‘normal’. The workforce seems to be a little more complex than that.1 Changes in the workforce have left a lasting impact not only on the work environment, but on the psyche of the individuals who are now dealing with concerns over both unemployment and underemployment. The pandemic saw unemployment and underemployment rise as skilled workers were both forced out of the professional world, and some left voluntarily to pursue income from the gig economy. The ones coming back are demanding new conditions to match their post-COVID perspective.
Unemployment describes a situation where one is not employed while underemployment describes the situation when an employee works fewer hours than usual in their specialty.2 In addition, invisible underemployment touches on people that put in the hours but do not use their skills. In both cases, it is important to look not only at the financial but emotional and behavioural adversities that follow these events in order to fully understand the adverse consequences. This also allows for more personalised solutions to be suggested by professionals for workers to overcome these major life challenges.
Peggy was a principal of a school when COVID started, but through changes in leadership due to the pandemic, her contract was not renewed and she found herself unemployed. Peggy was at a crossroads in her life having been a school principal for the previous seven years but knowing she wasn’t really enjoying. Her finances were in such a state that she couldn’t afford a lower paying job, even though her ideal situation was working less hours and having more time in her garden. Peggy spent the summer talking to a financial therapist and re-evaluating her life, her sense of self, and redefining what she truly needed to feel happy and fulfilled. After a lot of deep psychology work, Peggy was able to restructure her entire financial life, sell some assets to pay off debt. She moved to a reading tutor’s job at a new school and found the more she engaged directly with the children she wanted to teach, the better she felt. This new perspective tied her self-worth to direct childhood education and helping youth from a hands-on angle, rather than the more complex but less rewarding position of school administrator. At first Peggy had to detach from her self-image of being a principal and the esteem she had attached to that role in life. Once she could free her mind, Peggy was able to seek out what truly fed her heart. This led to what some people would consider “underemployment” or a lesser skilled and lesser income position. However, once Peggy had systematically addressed her finances, she right-sized her financial needs to match a lesser paying but more fulfilling role. In this case, Peggy used financial psychology to deal with the fear of unemployment, the stress of debt, and choice of employment to live a fuller, happier life.
It is quite obvious that both unemployment and underemployment lead to financial trouble. If you are not working, earning money becomes a struggle. Behaviors stemming from denial and indifference can surface throughout this process as financial losses can affect one’s view on money in negative ways most of the time. In the realm of financial psychology, the focus is not necessarily on the financial losses, but rather the emotions you attach to financial loss. Not only can it demolish one’s confidence, it can compound negatively, fundamentally altering their life course. When Peggy first found out her contract was not going to be renewed, this through her into abject financial fear and certainty that the only solution was to find another principal’s position. It was only through careful analysis of her situation and staying calm in the face of fear that she was able to discern the choice that best matched her heart’s desire.
Dooley et al., demonstrated that cases of underemployment and unemployment are highly correlated with depression compared to those that are fully employed.3 Furthermore, self-esteem and self-worth are in question during unemployment, which leads to negative emotions, anxious thoughts and self-doubt.4 Although we as a society put up a front of separating money and worth, it is typical to see those two aspects still entangled together. This perpetuates the defeatist view where money defines self-worth. When Peggy analysed what she truly wanted in life, to support youth through education, she realized a reading teacher’s position was the best choice for her personal fulfilment and would still support her self-worth.
One thing many would do in this same situation is lose their positive outlook. This can lead to depression, negativity, victim-outlook and other points of view that would aggravate the situation even more. Peggy dealt with this head-on. She gave herself time to grieve the loss of her job and recognized the trauma she had endured from that experience. By using emotional neutrality, she was able to find the equanimous place within herself to stabilize and centralize her energy around her own self-worth separate from her income.
Financial psychology provided the clarity Peggy needed to see that when one financial avenue closes, another one opens. It is important to remind yourself money is not in the background of self-worth. However, a reflection of yourself can be seen through how you react and deal with financial hardships.
- Tracking the COVID-19 economy’s effects on food, housing, and employment hardships. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2022, from https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/tracking-the-covid-19-economys-effects-on-food-housing-and#:~:text=The%20unemployment%20rate%20jumped%20in,2021%20than%20in%20February%202020.
- Hayes, A. (2022, May 3). Unemployment definition and types. Investopedia. Retrieved May 10, 2022, from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/u/unemployment.asp
- Dooley D, Prause J, Ham-Rowbottom KA. Underemployment and depression: longitudinal relationships. Journal of Health and Social Behaviour. 2000 Dec; 41(4):421-36.
- Goldsmith, A., & Diette, T. (n.d.). Exploring the link between unemployment and mental health outcomes. American Psychological Association. Retrieved May 10, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/indicator/2012/04/unemployment