Worldwide, Prospect of Job Loss Connected to Low Wellbeing

by Brett Pelham, Jesus Rios, and Gerver Torres

Relation between perceived layoffs and wellbeing most pronounced in Americas

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Worldwide, workers who say their employer is currently letting workers go are less likely to be "thriving" than those who say their employer is currently hiring, according to Gallup surveys conducted in more than 100 countries in 2008 and 2009.


Gallup measures evaluative wellbeing using a measure based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, which asks people to evaluate their present and future lives on a scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10, where 0 is the worst possible life and 10 is the best possible life. Those who rate today a "7" or higher and the future an "8" or higher are considered to be "thriving." Those who rate today and the future a "4" or lower on the scale are considered to be "suffering." "Net thriving" is the difference between people who are "thriving" and "suffering" in a given group. Country data are weighted by their populations to reflect worldwide figures.

The global data reveal that workers who believe their companies are hiring new workers are 27 percentage points more likely to be thriving than suffering, nearly double the gap for workers at companies laying workers off (14 point). Those who say their company is not changing the size of its workforce fall about halfway in between, with a 20-point thriving gap.

Looming Layoffs Are a Downer

Perceptions of whether one's employer is increasing or decreasing the size of its workforce are also related to workers' reported mood. Even among those who believe their employers are laying people off, those reporting only happiness and enjoyment outnumber those reporting only stress and worry (the gap is 25 points). However, this gap grows to 39 points for those who report that their company is hiring new people. Those who report no change in the size of their company's workforce fall in between (with a mood gap of 34), but slightly closer to those who say their employer is hiring.

Regional Differences in the Connection Between Perceived Hiring Status and Wellbeing

Although the connection between perceived layoffs and wellbeing shows up in every region of the world, the connection is stronger in Europe and in the Americas than in the rest of the world. Specifically, the net thriving gap between those who think their companies are currently hiring and those who think their companies are currently letting people go is 24 points in Europe and the Americas, which is about twice as large as the comparable gap in Africa and Asia.


Perhaps those working in Europe or the Americas base their wellbeing more heavily on feelings of job security. Another possibility, though, is that high levels of wellbeing may somehow influence perceived hiring patterns in a more dramatic way in Europe and the Americas than in the rest of the world. A similar, albeit not identical, regional pattern emerges based on mood rather than life evaluation. In the case of mood, the association with perceived job loss is even stronger in the Americas than in Europe, but Africa and Asia now have gaps comparable to that in Europe. The region that stands out most is the former Soviet Union countries, where the gap is five points.


A Global Snapshot of Wellbeing

Because these data are based on representative samples within countries and are weighted by each country's population, they provide a picture of the large majority of the world's citizens. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the results are not driven exclusively by the trends in a few highly populated countries such as China or India. First, the same trends appear to differing degrees in all five world regions. Second the connection between perceived job loss and wellbeing still shows up in every world region if one weights all countries equally, or if one examines median country scores in each region, rather than weighting by national populations.

Bottom Line

Taken together, these findings suggest a pervasive effect of harsh economic realities (perceived ones, at least) on wellbeing all over the world. It is well established, at the country level and the respondent level, that evaluative wellbeing is related to income. However, the present findings suggest a direct connection between wellbeing and felt economic security. Thus, from the standpoint of wellbeing, the current economic crisis may have as much to do with worries about what will happen tomorrow as it does with economic problems today.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted between February 2007 and August 2009. Sample sizes for the main analyses ranged from a low of 4,587 respondents who said their employer is letting people go and who answered the thriving questions to a high of 19,169 who said their employer was not changing the size of the workforce and who answered the mood questions. Confidence intervals for the main (worldwide) figures range from a high of ±2 percentage points to a low of less than ±1 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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