Jobless Stigma Hurts Workers Who Quit Too


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — It doesn’t matter if you were laid off, fired or voluntarily left your job, a new study finds that employers have reservations about hiring someone who is unemployed, regardless of how the candidate left his or her last job.

“Job candidates who said they voluntarily left a position faced the same stigma as job candidates who said they had been laid off or terminated,” Geoffrey Ho, lead researcher of the study at the University of California-Los Angeles Anderson School of Management, said in a written statement.

The study, conducted by researchers at UCLA and the State University of New York-Stony Brook, also confirmed that the longer job seekers remain unemployed, the lower their chances of finding work.

The study attributed job search difficulties solely to the stigma of being out of work, as opposed to an employer’s concerns about the unemployed worker's skill set or a lack of persistence in job hunting. Both notions have long been cited as a reason for long-term employment.

"Economists have tended to chalk up long-term unemployment to the probability of skill decay or discouragement, or employers' perceptions of skill decay," Shih said. "But we're finding that when there's no evidence that skills have deteriorated, out-of-work job applicants are still at a disadvantage.”

To conduct the study, researchers recruited a random cross-section of Americans online and had them appraise fictitious job candidates in a variety of ways. In one experiment, they presented study participants with a fictitious resume, telling half the group the resume belonged to an employed person and the other half that it was from a person out of work.

Researchers found that despite being shown otherwise identical resumes, the participants perceived the "unemployed" job seeker as less competent, warm and proactive than the "employed" job seeker.

As such, participants said they would be less willing to interview or hire the jobless individual over the one who was employed.

Researchers also alternated reasons for which an individual was unemployed when presenting participants with the resumes, and found it made no difference whether an applicant had been terminated, been laid off or voluntarily left.  

In fact, the only thing that lessened the stigma was when the job loss could in no way be attributed to the individual. For instance, participants did not view jobless applicants negatively if they lost their jobs because their former company had filed for bankruptcy.

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