When the graduating classes of 2009, 2010 and 2011 hit the job market, they had a bleak environment to contend with. Unemployment was at a historic high, and job opportunities were scarce. Only 56 percent reported finding jobs the first six months after graduating. The pattern took hold, and even years later those who graduated during recessions were still making less than their economically prosperous counterparts. But surprising findings indicate that these same individuals who graduated amidst a recession might, in fact, be happier.
It appears that people who enter the workforce during a recession are often happier with their jobs than those who graduated amidst favorable economic conditions. In one paper, the job attitudes of 1,638 people were tracked over the course of 15 years: “Even though they earned less money than people who started their careers in better economic times, recession graduates were significantly happier with their jobs both early in their careers and years later.” Perhaps the results can be explained by different industry or occupational choices. According to the Harvard Business Review: “People who began their careers in prosperous times, on the other hand, were more likely to be plagued by regret, second-guessing, and what-ifs.”
Entering the workforce during a recession doesn’t only seem to affect how workers think about their jobs. It also seems that it affects how workers think about themselves. In other words, those who graduated during recessions appear to be less narcissistic. One reason that recession graduates might be less likely to develop a grandiose sense of self is that narcissism seems to be tempered by adversity and setbacks. Through their trials and tribulations, disproportionate to those who graduated in luckier economic times, they never got the opportunity to develop an over-inflated ego.
And the facts bear it out, too. According to data from a representative sample of more than 30,000 Americans: “People who entered adulthood during worse economic times were less narcissistic than those who came of age in more-prosperous times.” If grandiosity is affected by economic conditions, can the same conditions also affect the propensity for unethical business practices? Some evidence suggests it could. Past work has shown that narcissists are more likely to behave unethically, sabotage their coworkers and be convicted of white-collar crime.
A large number of Americans who began their careers amidst a recession still feel the economic scars of entering the workforce during such tumultuous and uncertain times. They may have gaps in their resumes and fewer zeros in their salaries. But these hardships may have shaped them into happier, less-self-absorbed, and more ethical employees.
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