Unemployment and Underemployment are Scourges

Public Health Problem

Unemployment and underemployment are scourges—nothing short of a problem of public health of pandemic proportions. Unemployed people are at greater risk of poorer physical health (Griep et al., 2015) and mental health (Wanberg, 2012), including suicidal behavior (Breuer, 2014; Drydakis, 2014; Madianos, Alexiou, Patelakis, & Economou, 2014; Milner, Morrell, & LaMontagne, 2014; Milner, Page, & LaMontagne, 2013, 2014), and change in personality, such as agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness (Boyce, Wood, Daly, & Sedikides, 2015).  It is alarming that poverty is associated with diminished cognitive development in children (Dickerson & Popli, 2016; Heberle & Carter, 2015; Kalil, Duncan, & Ziol-Guest, 2016).

Unemployment not only diminishes mental health but also, in turn, poorer mental health is a risk factor for unemployment (Butterworth, Leach, Pirkis, & Kelaher, 2012; Olesen, Butterworth, Leach, Kelaher, & Pirkis, 2013), which sets up a vicious cycle that entraps those with mental health issues in poverty. Furthermore, poor quality employment confers similar negative effects on mental health. Tragically, suicide is concomitant to unemployment (Milner, Morrell, et al., 2014; Milner, Page, et al., 2014; Norstrom & Gronqvist, 2015; Reeves, McKee, & Stuckler, 2014) and evident higher rates of suicide within the first five years of unemployment (Milner et al., 2013).  With the provision of interventions for unemployment and re-employment within their professional domain, career practitioners must be alert to mental health concerns and suicidality for their clients (Popadiuk, 2013).

Psychology of Working and Decent Work

In the presence of such compelling evidence about the pernicious effects of unemployment and underemployment, scholars in the field have turned their attention to decent work (Blustein, Olle, Connors-Kellgren, & Diamonti, 2016; International Labour Office, 2015). The psychology of working framework (PWF; Blustein, 2006, 2013) and the psychology of working theory (PWT; Duffy, Blustein, Diemer, & Autin, 2016) hold decent work as central to well-being and self-determination of the individual and the contexts in which the individual relates to others (e.g., family community). These scholars’ conviction is rational given that poor quality work wreaks havoc on psychological well-being (Butterworth, Leach, McManus, & Stansfeld, 2013; Butterworth et al., 2011).

According to the PWF/PWT, crucial influences emanating from economic constraints and marginalization can negatively affect a person’s work volition and career adaptability, which, in turn, positively affect a person’s likelihood of securing decent work. This dynamic tension between negative and positive factors is moderated by a person’s proactive personality, critical consciousness, social support, and economic conditions. Thus, in times of reasonable economic conditions which produce demand for labour in an inclusive society, stronger levels of volition and career adaptability should enable a person to seek, secure, and enjoy decent work—thereby, living comfortably, and fulfilling psychological needs of autonomy, relatedness, and competence (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Unfortunately, that ideal state of affairs is not the norm for millions of people on earth.


The PWF broadens the focus and ethical mandate of career development practice and research. The field’s traditional foci (e.g., career decision-making, vocational interests, developmental stages) remain important; it is just that these factors can now be subsumed under the greater cause of decent work for those who seek it. In this way, the PWF is paradigmatic; it allows for other vocational psychology theories to provide their specialized perspectives on career-related behaviours that contribute to a person securing decent work. Thus, ACCELL uses the PWF as a paradigm for our research and development.


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Blustein, D. L. (2013). The psychology of working: A new perspective for a new era. In D. L. Blustein (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of the psychology of working (pp. 3-18). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Blustein, D. L., Olle, C., Connors-Kellgren, A., & Diamonti, A. J. (2016). Decent work: A psychological perspective. Frontiers in Psychology, 7. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00407

Boyce, C. J., Wood, A. M., Daly, M., & Sedikides, C. (2015). Personality change following unemployment. Journal of Applied Psychology. doi: 10.1037/a0038647

Breuer, C. (2014). Unemployment and suicide mortality: evidence from regional panel data in Europe. Health Econ, 24. doi: 10.1002/hec.3073

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Butterworth, P., Leach, L. S., Strazdins, L., Olesen, S. C., Rodgers, B., & Broom, D. H. (2011). The psychosocial quality of work determines whether employment has benefits for mental health: results from a longitudinal national household panel survey. Occupational and Environmental Medicine. doi: 10.1136/oem.2010.059030

Dickerson, A., & Popli, G. K. (2016). Persistent poverty and children’s cognitive development: evidence from the UK Millennium Cohort Study. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society), 179(2), 535-558. doi: 10.1111/rssa.12128

Drydakis, N. (2014). The effect of unemployment on self-reported health and mental health in Greece from 2008 to 2013: A longitudinal study before and during the financial crisis. Soc Sci Med, 128c.

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Griep, Y., Kinnunen, U., Nätti, J., De Cuyper, N., Mauno, S., Mäkikangas, A., & De Witte, H. (2015). The effects of unemployment and perceived job insecurity: a comparison of their association with psychological and somatic complaints, self-rated health and life satisfaction. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 89(1), 147-162. doi: 10.1007/s00420-015-1059-5

Heberle, A. E., & Carter, A. S. (2015). Cognitive aspects of young children’s experience of economic disadvantage. Psychological Bulletin, 141(4), 723-746. doi: 10.1037/bul0000010

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Kalil, A., Duncan, G. J., & Ziol-Guest, K. M. (2016). Early childhood poverty: Short and long-run consequences over the lifespan. In J. M. Shanahan, T. J. Mortimer & M. Kirkpatrick Johnson (Eds.), Handbook of the Life Course: Volume II (pp. 341-354). Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Madianos, M. G., Alexiou, T., Patelakis, A., & Economou, M. (2014). Suicide, unemployment and other socioeconomic factors: evidence from the economic crisis in Greece. Eur J Psychiatr, 28. doi: 10.4321/s0213-61632014000100004

Milner, A., Morrell, S., & LaMontagne, A. D. (2014). Economically inactive, unemployed and employed suicides in Australia by age and sex over a 10-year period: What was the impact of the 2007 economic recession? Int J Epidemiol, 43. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyu148

Milner, A., Page, A., & LaMontagne, A. D. (2013). Long-Term Unemployment and Suicide: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 8(1), 1-6. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051333

Milner, A., Page, A., & LaMontagne, A. D. (2014). Cause and effect in studies on unemployment, mental health and suicide: a meta-analytic and conceptual review. Psychological Medicine, 44(05), 909-917. doi: doi:10.1017/S0033291713001621

Norstrom, T., & Gronqvist, H. (2015). The Great Recession, unemployment and suicide. J Epidemiol Community Health, 69. doi: 10.1136/jech-2014-204602

Olesen, S. C., Butterworth, P., Leach, L. S., Kelaher, M., & Pirkis, J. (2013). Mental health affects future employment as job loss affects mental health: findings from a longitudinal population study. BMC Psychiatry, 13. doi: 10.1186/1471-244x-13-144

Popadiuk, N. E. (2013). Career counsellors and suicide risk assessment. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 41(4), 1-12. doi: 10.1080/03069885.2012.726964

Reeves, A., McKee, M., & Stuckler, D. (2014). Economic suicides in the Great Recession in Europe and North America. Br J Psychiatry, 205. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.114.144766

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

Wanberg, C. R. (2012). The individual experience of unemployment. Annual Review of Psychology, 63(1), 369-396. doi: doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-120710-100500

* This blog article is an extract from a keynote presentation prepared for the Career Development Association of New Zealand: McIlveen, P. (2016). Ask a Precise Question in You Want a Precise Answer About the Effectiveness of Career Development. Keynote paper presented at the Symposium of the Career Development Association of New Zealand, Christchurch, 3 October.

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