The recession has brought focus to the stress and trauma caused by unemployment or loss of a job from layoffs. And certainly, there is research evidence to show the stress caused by job loss is ranked high along with death in the family and divorce. At the same time, recent findings show wellbeing associated with disengagement at work may result in an equal if not greater drop in wellbeing than unemployment.

Nearly three-quarters of jobless Americans say family stress is greater since they lost work, according to a survey by the New York City-based nonprofit National Employment Law Project. One in three said they interrupted their own or a family member's education, and one in four had to move to make ends meet. Joblessness can cancel plans to start a family, delay retirement, force one spouse to work long hours, and create a host of unexpected challenges on the home front. An unemployed spouse may feel lonely or depressed; a partner may resent taking on extra hours at work or feel hemmed in by the sudden round-the-clock togetherness. The balance of power can shift. And issues like who takes the trash out and who makes dinner can become battlegrounds.

When British researchers surveyed 24,000 out-of-work women and men in several countries, they found that unemployment had a deeper effect on wellbeing than divorce or widowhood. Australians are more stressed about losing their job than they are about getting divorced, according to results of a survey conducted by Newspoll on behalf of Suncorp Life. According to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory of which the results were published in Occupational Medicine, unemployment was viewed by people as being more stressful than divorce, an upward ranking compared to 10 years ago.

Another perception of the impact of stress on lives comes from recent research by Gallup which shows that American workers who are emotionally disconnected from their work and workplace, rate their lives more poorly than do those who are unemployed. This data was gleaned from a Gallup Daily tracking series to explore American workers' engagement levels, and showing connections to 12 workplace elements with proven linkages to performance outcomes.

According to the Gallup Study, 42% percent of actively disengaged workers are thriving in their lives, compared with 48% of the unemployed. At the other end of the spectrum are "engaged" employees who are involved in and enthusiastic about their work--71% of who are thriving.

Gallup's findings are consistent with those in a recent Australian study that was published in the professional journal, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which found that the unemployed have poorer mental health than the employed, but those with poor or unhappy work environments had worse health than the unemployed.

Gallup's conclusions regarding the implications for organizations are interesting, stating, "It is possible that workers who are actively disengaged are for some reasons predisposed to or inherently register lower wellbeing. However, Gallup analysis of engagement within organizations suggest worker engagement and disengagement are significantly influenced by how employees are managed." Workplaces that create environments that disengaged employees create a potential wellbeing risk. Even at a time when unemployment is high and many people are thankful to have a job, those who are actively disengaged in their work have lower wellbeing than the unemployed.

So the recession has had the effect of a double whammy on the American workplace. On the one hand unemployment and job loss has had a negative impact on people and their lives, creating significant stress. On the other hand, those still in their jobs--either hating them or being disengaged--are experiencing equally low states of wellbeing. And it appears as though the behavior of managers and leaders in organizations is a critical factor.

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