Layoff Aftershock: Social Withdrawal

September 1, 2009 ( - A new study of the impacts of layoffs on employees suggests workers feel the effects of being jobless far beyond their family finances.

The new UCLA-University of Michigan research indicates layoff victims are far less likely to volunteer their time or join a range of social and community groups. According to a news release, of the six forms of involvement studied, youth and community groups experienced the strongest exodus followed by church and church groups, charitable organizations, and leisurely activities, including country club attendance.

The news release said workers who had experienced an involuntary disruption in their employment status were 35% less likely to be involved in their communities than their counterparts who had never experienced a job loss due to layoff, downsizing, or restructuring, or a business closing or relocating. The tendency to withdraw from public activities continued long past the job disruption.

“Social engagement often involves an element of social trust and a sense that things are reciprocal – that you give some support if you get some support, and you benefit from society if society benefits from you,” said Jennie E. Brand, a UCLA sociologist and the study’s lead author, in the news release. “When workers are displaced, the tendency is to feel as though the social contract has been violated, and we found that they are less likely to reciprocate.”

Along with University of Michigan sociologist Sarah A. Burgard, Brand looked at 4,373 participants in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which has tracked a group of 1957 Wisconsin high school graduates for more than 45 years, gathering detailed information on their IQs, education, careers, psychological well-being, family, and social lives.

The social withdrawal found in the study was strongest for workers who were displaced during their peak earning years - between 35 and 53 years old. The researchers found that non-displaced workers were 1.2 to 1.5 times more likely to participate across all forms of social and community activities than workers who had been displaced. This was the case for both ages examined by the researchers - 53 as well as at 64 years of age.

"Workers can be displaced early in their career, and they're still less likely to be participating at age 60 than their counterparts who have never been displaced," Brand said, according to the announcement. "It's not like displaced workers rebound and return to involvement. Displacement seems to change their whole trajectory of participation."

Professional organizations were the least likely to be affected by a disruption of employment. After finding a new job, displaced workers were more likely to strike up affiliation with these groups than with youth groups or community centers; civic, business, political, neighborhood or professional groups; or social and leisure activities, including country clubs, sports teams and weekly gatherings with friends, Brand and Burgard found

Withdrawing could prolong unemployment by limiting a displaced worker's exposure to contacts that could possibly lead to a new job.

"If workers withdraw socially after being laid off, then they're experiencing double jeopardy," Brand said. "They're losing their jobs, and then they're not participating in society, so they're not keeping up with social contacts that might help them find a new job."