An Economic Depression Doesn't Have to Turn into a Clinical One

With Ministry of Manpower showing total employment growth at its lowest since 2003 and a looming recession, we need to better prepare ourselves for this economic downturn. And just because the economy is depressed, doesn't mean we have to be either. Unemployment and the fear of it have commonly been associated with depression, anxiety and all round decreased life satisfaction. This is a difficult situation; it is not an impossible one.

Whilst we cannot completely control being employed, there is a direct correlation between job contentment and employability. Countless studies and intuition concludes that the more dissatisfied employees are, the higher their absenteeism and lower their productivity, which lead to the downward spiral of potential retrenchment.

Also, the more content employees are, the more likely to bounce back faster even if they are retrenched. More contented employees, upon retrenchment, are able to tolerate uncertainty better, which could ultimately lead to them change their outlook and better their lives.

Permanent Busyness

In the current economic downturn, many turn to becoming “permanently busy” as a means to keep their job secure. They believe that by working longer and harder, it would somehow help them retain their jobs. Permanent busyness is counter-productive and invariably leads to feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Being busy neither guarantees nor equates to success. The philosopher, Henry David Thoreau wrote that “it is not enough to be busy; so are ants. The question is: what are we busy about?” What we think is part of the solution, may actually be perpetuating the problem. More working professionals are ending up with medical problems, including insomnia, depression and hypertension, because of extra-long work hours.

We are constantly doing. We have become increasingly hyperactive at work in response to economic recessions, corporate downsizing, global markets and 24/7 technology. Sometimes it seems that we work full-time, and only live part-time.

  • Not Using Leave: Barely half the holidays alloted to Japanese workers are ever taken
  • No Time for Dating: When working hours are so long, it severely restricts opportunities to meet the opposite sex. The difficulty of finding a partner has caused a drastic fall in the number of marriages and - partly because only 2% of Japanese babies are born of wedlock compared to 41% in the US - a steep decline in the national birth rate. In 2012, the average fertility rate for Japanese women was just 1.41 children, well below the 2.1 required to sustain the population.
  • Middle Management Fears of Losing Job
  • Romanticism of Long Work Hours: How our culture falsely beatifies long hours when we stay back at work longer and later than our bosses or how it is a badge of honour just how many emails we receive in a day

The Solution?

Whilst people often may comment that all their stress would go away if they could only quit their job, the reality is that unemployment is more strongly correlated with adverse psychological effects. The most common of which are anxiety and depression, and numerous studies have shown how this often leads to physical issues as people start taking less care of their health.

For many Singaporeans, work is a significant part of our lives and identity. Consequently, unemployment may trigger a personal or existential crisis. It is not uncommon for people to feel a sense of emptiness and loss of direction.

    It is important to asses how much of your working day is spent on:

  • Work Tasks
  • Relationships
  • Values

Many would agree that a disproportionate amount of time is spent on daily work tasks and deadlines. Some may focus a little more on relationships, putting in time and effort to be collegial with peers and to manage both superiors and subordinates. Few would place much emphasis on reflecting on ones values at work. Work without alignment to ones values inevitably ends up as sacrifice. This is not necessary. So how do we identify and express values?

Maintaining contentment at work by being satisfied with our work. Jjob satisfaction as “a pleasurable or positive emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one’s job or job experiences” (Locke, 1975, p.1304). Job satisfaction has emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components (Bernstein & Nash, 2008). The emotional component refers to job-related feelings such as boredom, anxiety, acknowledgement and excitement. The cognitive component of job satisfaction pertains to beliefs regarding one's job whether it is respectable, mentally demanding / challenging and rewarding. Finally, the behavioral component includes people's actions in relation to their work such as tardiness, working late, faking illness in order to avoid work (Bernstein & Nash, 2008).

Insight is the key (find reference) to building resilience to maintain contentment at work. Ones ability to ask and answer tough questions, and to be able to get to the heart of the matter and understand things for what they are rather than what you would like them to be. Being open and requesting feedback are the first step to maximize ones insight.

Written by Dr. Joel Yang