When Joblessness Begets Joblessness

Posted on Mar 23, 2012 | 11 Comments

Being unemployed is bad enough. But the feeling that being unemployed makes you less and less employable is almost unbearable.

Some companies, it seems, are discriminating against job seekers who’ve been unemployed for more than six months—a serious problem in a job market that, otherwise, seems to be picking up nicely of late.

“Employers may suspect that an unemployed applicant is seeking an available job for the wrong reasons,” the Associated Press explained in a report published today. “Also, some long-term unemployed applicants may come across as too urgent for work.”

The problem has gotten bad enough that some states, according to an earlier article in The Wall Street Journal, have taken up “legislation to make it illegal for companies to discriminate against the unemployed.”

Peter Drucker, as we’ve noted before, well understood the pain of being jobless for a long stretch. In The New Society, he put it particularly starkly, writing, “The main effect of long-term unemployment is not physical but psychological: loss of self-respect; loss of initiative; finally, in extreme cases, loss of sanity.”

Photo by John E. Allen, Inc. Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

But Drucker also would have seen one strong, albeit cruel, reason for skepticism of the unemployed as job applicants, especially if they’re knowledge workers. “Knowledge evaporates unless it’s used and augmented,” Drucker wrote in Technology, Management, and Society. “Skill goes to sleep, it becomes rusty, but it can be restored and refurbished very quickly. That’s not true of knowledge. If knowledge isn’t challenged to grow, it disappears fast. It’s infinitely more perishable than any other resource we have ever had.”

In short, use it or lose it—fast.

What do you think: Is discrimination against the unemployed always unfair or can it be reasonable—and why?


11 Comments

  1. Rob Druckerito
    March 23, 2012

    If you are a graduate of Drucker/ITO and you are unemployed, it is most definitely unfair, extremely unreasonable, very foolish, and perhaps a crime against humanity! If you are not a Drucker/ITO graduate and unemployed, it is probably very fair and reasonable that you are passed over. Why? If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Haha!

    Reply
  2. Dan
    March 24, 2012

    Poor hiring practices will always be with us as employers continue to focus on the need today versus the future need. A candidate unemployed for more than six months is not necessarily a risky choice unless there is a pattern of unemployment streaks. In addition to the employment trend, one must look to other factors as well – lack of mobility due to aging parents, depressed housing values, reluctance to move older age children. So many employers look at hiring as an event rather than a process with the reslt that the best candidate on the surface often prevails. For managers to treat a hiring process like a competition for Homecoming Queen, is it any wonder that managers lack confidence in hiring ability?

    Reply
  3. Ken S.
    March 24, 2012

    Having been unemployed two times for several years each since getting my Drucker MBA 10 years ago, I intimately know the feeling many talented people have when out of work for extended periods of time. Naturally, I’m indignant that anyone would discriminate against someone for wanting the job too much. How ludicrous!

    That said, the long-term unemployed need to throw their shackles off and head in an entirely new direction. I got a new master’s degree – one that works – and just started full-time work in national security. Took four years, but I did it.

    Reply
    • Jason S
      March 24, 2012

      Way to go Ken S.! Very courageous move you made. Glad it worked out well for you.

      Reply
  4. Maverick 18
    March 24, 2012

    Employment agencies and employers always take the easy road. It is simply less problematic to hire someone with a continuous record of employment than someone who has major gaps in their employment record or has been unemployed for an extended period. Unemployment and gaps in employment also hinder loans and security clearances. Is that fair in the moral sense? Probably not, but its a fact of life. A company may be able to find the best possible candidate by screening highly qualified applicants that are unemployed due to their former employer’s downsizing. But that takes effort, and effort costs money, and why bother? Fair competition for jobs is unfair in multiple ways; always has been and always will be. Only certain practices are prohibited, and employers mostly know how to avoid the legal pitfals.

    Reply
  5. George L. Williams
    March 24, 2012

    Conscious discrimination, on the part of employers is always bad. The current downturn may be used to conveniently skirt current law in this area.

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  6. Richard B Mann PhD
    March 24, 2012

    Having been an employee, an employer, and on a hiring review panel for a government agency, I have seen all sides. No matter what one does, it is almost impossible to hire the best person for a particular job (points assigned to things like race, military service, education, etc). However, the rules against discrimination for any reason inhibit hiring the best. It is a compromise and forces an employer to pass over a whole room full of qualified for someone who is basically not really up to doing a job. I developed a system for hiring the most nearly ideal manager based on decision making ability compatible with requirements, but, even that does not insure there is a “perfect” match for a specific job in a specific company. In the last analysis, it is a crap shoot, based on a probability scale that can help make the most out of an almost impossible situation. A psychological profile might help, but that depends on the psychologist.

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  7. Alba Patricia Valencia
    March 25, 2012

    Discrimination has always existed. The ability or power to see or make distinctions; is treatment or consideration based on class or category, such race or gender, rather than individual merit; partiality or prejudice.

    The discernment to discriminate is united to power, the persuasion, to the police, standards, and laws. Those elements often are violated. Ethics and morality as guiding principles are conspicuous by their absence. As for instance, against the unemployed…

    La discriminación siempre ha existido. La capacidad o el poder de ver o hacer distinciones, es el tratamiento o consideración basada en la clase o categoría, la raza o el género como también en el mérito individual, parcialidad o prejuicio.

    El discernimiento para discriminar esta unidad al poder, a la persuasión, a la política, a las normas, y leyes. Estos elementos muchas veces son violados. La ética y la moral como principios rectores, brillan por su ausencia. Como por ejemplo, contra los desempleados…

    Reply
  8. Nathan
    March 26, 2012

    The way a question is phrased has a huge impact on how it is answered. In response to this question, I believe discrimination against the unemployed simply because they are unemployed is definitely unfair. However, having hired hundreds of people in nonprofit programs for many years, I have learned that people who are frequently unemployed can be a red flag. Of course, some people are simply laid off or relocate and these are normal reasons for unemployment. But I’ve known people who have been through eight jobs in the past ten years and are unemployed for anywhere from several months to over a year between each job. I wouldn’t say these are bad workers, but simply something to be concerned about. Those who are high performers typically rise to the top and do well. I have even seen great workers survive layoffs because the company tried very hard to keep them (reassigning responsibilities or offering a new position). While I never would discriminate against someone simply for being unemployed, I do try to find out the purpose for their unemployment and what professional activities they engaged in between jobs. Employers typically like to see some stability and commitment in a work history. Some people can’t hold a job because they are poor performers then claim discrimination. This of course is not true of all people who are unemployed, but if one were to look at this issue, I think it’s important to consider it from many angles.

    Reply
  9. Adnan
    March 27, 2012

    It really depends on the job. If job requires creativity, unemployment may be a + because of the importance of critical thinking, out of the box. If process oriented, I go for experience length. Most recruiters are individuals often confronted with job loss cases and therefore may feel themselves insecure. The unemployed is generally more perceived as being independent too long, an outcast, a survivor; the other route would be Entrepreneurship …. or social work

    Reply
  10. The Feedback | The Drucker Exchange
    March 27, 2012

    [...] the rising problem of employers who shy away from hiring the long-term unemployed. Last week, we brought up this topic and asked whether such discrimination is always unfair or can sometimes be reasonable, considering [...]

    Reply

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