Academic journal article Journal of Employment Counseling

Unemployment, Social Support, Individual Resources, and Job Search Behavior

Academic journal article Journal of Employment Counseling

Unemployment, Social Support, Individual Resources, and Job Search Behavior

Article excerpt

The authors investigated the relation between the social support received by unemployed individuals (N = 104) and their job search behavior. A moderated mediation model demonstrated that the effect of social support on job search behaviors was mediated by self-esteem but only if adequacy of social support was perceived as low. In addition, the effect of social support on job search behavior was partially mediated by optimistic expectations and resilience. In sum, social support seems to be a resource with complex and partially surprising effects on job search behavior.


There is ample evidence that unemployment impairs mental health (Paul & Moser, 2006; Warr, Jackson, & Banks, 1988; Waters & Moore, 2002). Unemployment is a difficult time period for the focal person and can be considered a severe stressor. Therefore, it is no surprise that there are several approaches to helping unemployed people. From the perspective of stress research, one important approach is to focus on the buffering role of social support in stress situations (Viswesvaran, Sanchez, & Fisher, 1999). This reasoning is supported both by the phenomenon that others feel compelled to offer unemployed people help and by the evidence that people in crisis themselves often turn to personal relationships for different kinds of support (Uehara, 1994).

There are at least two perspectives on why social support should be helpful. First, social support can buffer the effects of stressors, which has been confirmed by meta-analytical findings (Viswesvaran et al., 1999). Given that unemployment is a severe stressor, social support should also buffer the negative effects of unemployment on mental health (Paul & Moser, 2009). Second, social support might also be important during the job search. The current study more closely analyzes the role of social support.


Initially, it seems to be obvious that social support should be related to job search behavior. During unemployment, individuals feel insecure about themselves concerning their job search activities, and social support represents an important resource in such a situation. For example, affirmative social support from a spouse can influence an individual's belief that engaging in the job search process is an important, useful, and beneficial activity. Social support might be related to job search behavior because it is a resource in itself, and it is related to other mediating variables, for example, self-esteem, optimistic expectations, and resilience, to name a few. In the following paragraphs, we discuss the mediating role of self-esteem. In the subsequent paragraphs, we briefly comment on the other two individual difference variables (i.e., optimistic expectations and resilience).

Self-esteem is an important predictor of job search behavior (Kanfer, Wanberg, & Kantrowitz, 2001). In addition, research has shown that unemployment decreases an individual's self-esteem (Paul & Moser, 2009). But is social support helpful in sustaining or even promoting self-esteem? Support for the assumption of this question comes from a recent study: Waters and Moore (2002) found a positive relation between social support and self-esteem.

However, there are also arguments that the relationship between social support and self-esteem might be more complex. That is to say, although supportive actions are normally intended to be helpful, they can sometimes be counterproductive for the individuals who receive such help. For example, during a job search, individuals might receive support for improving their resumes but later learn that the relevant employers (e.g., the construction industry) are not interested in resumes. Second, social support might even have negative implications. More specifically, research on helping as it is perceived from the recipient's point of view has advanced the notion that offered help is often rejected because it is experienced as a threat to self-esteem. …

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