The problem of having your self worth linked with your work

White-collar unemployment is an increasingly prevalent phenomena in the world these days, but the long-term psychological effects of it are still unknown.

The problem of having your self worth linked with your work

Research suggests that men and women - living in neoliberal, consumer-orientated societies - emotionally experience unemployment or under-employment very differently.

While women tend to frame temporary unemployment as an excuse to spend more time as the primary caregiver; men in similar circumstances experience the deeply negative emotional feelings of shame and helplessness that can be very difficult to overcome.

Employment uncertainty can have a devastating effect on self-confidence and end up as a reinforcing cycle of despair for many, which is tough to break without help.

In her book Crunch Time: How married couples confront unemployment, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics, Aliya Hamid Rao, suggests that with our increasing focus on the future of work, layoffs, down-sizing, right-sizing and remote working; there is an urgent need to examine the link between self-worth and work.


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Employment, or the lack thereof, has become an intrinsic marker of a person’s moral worth. Several decades ago, the sociologist Erving Goffman identified unemployment as a “spoiled identity.” What he meant was that the unemployed are denied full participation in social life because others view them with suspicion.

White-collar unemployment is an increasingly prevalent phenomena in the world these days, but the long-term psychological effects of it are still unknown.

Unemployed women talked about gaining access to a new social world: that of stay-at-home moms. When Darlene, another unemployed woman, showed up at her son’s school on a weekday morning, she was welcomed by other mothers from the school’s Parent Teacher Association. She explains, “They didn’t ask me ‘What are you doing here at a Tuesday morning at 10 o’clock?’” Instead of having to justify what she was doing outside of a workplace, Darlene felt enthusiastically included: “They were like ‘Hey come on, we need your help!’”
Unemployed fathers, on the other hand, experienced parenthood differently. One father, William, described an uneasy instance of taking care of his four-year-old son during the weekday. William would take his son to their neighborhood pool, where, as he put it, “It would be like 20 moms and then there’d be me.” He added: “I just didn’t know how to engage, and I didn’t really want to, you know? I felt awkward. I just felt like I’m that guy.” William’s discomfort stands in sharp contrast to Darlene.

Why is this important? There is increasing debate these days about the value and importance of work and how that work should be structured.

Post-pandemic a lot of lingering and unconscious sentiments have bubbled up to the surface and show up as news headlines like The Great Resignation or Quite Quitting.  

There is however a deeper struggle at play here.

Questions relating to burnout, the weird schema of needing passion for your work in order to succeed, gender inequalities and why we (men in particular)  attach so much of our own self worth to our particular work are important topics to explore.

Where to from here? What's clear is that strategies to solve WFH issues cannot just address surface level problems. A huge shift has happened, and is still happening, but so many companies appear to be looking at the subject in incredibly simplistic ways.

Leaders need to understand that this future of work thing is going to require a lot more study and analysis to really start to understanding what the real challenge is, before designing strategies for its resolution.


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Crunch Time: Rao: 9780520298613: Amazon.com: Books
Crunch Time [Rao] on Amazon.com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Crunch Time

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