News Column

Building Your Own 'Psychological Stimulus Package'

June 29, 2009

Ivonne Chirino-Klevans, Ph.D., Program Director, International Programs, Walden University, for

job security, workplace psychology

For the past five years, Agustin, a smart young engineer, was confident that he would go to his job every morning; it would just be there. In the last few months, however, that sense of confidence has dissolved into uncertainty, and reality has set in.

Like Agustin, many of us are now forced to accept the fact that a job is never secure, and the comfort this illusion once brought has vanished. Once we realize it, however, why do we still behave as though our jobs will last forever? The answer may be in the preservation of our self-efficacy, which fuels our self-esteem.

Self-efficacy is the confidence we have in our ability to do our job well, in our skills and competencies, and in the belief that we can reach our goals. Predictability in the work environment promotes self-efficacy. In other words, just as we believe the coffee machine in the break room will be there the next day, we also believe our jobs will be there until we decide to leave

As employees, we tend to base our personal worth and feelings of self-efficacy on our performance evaluation, that is, the opinions others hold about how we do our job. By allowing others to decide whether we are performing our job well, we give up the control we have over our own outcomes. That's a big responsibility to give up. Consequently, when others decide that our job is no longer required or needed, we lose all sense of identity, self-worth and self-efficacy: If I am no longer the employee of Company X, who am I?

How can we reclaim our self-worth? The field of cognitive psychology offers some paths to help take control and build a "psychological stimulus package."

According to this theory, it is not the events in life that cause us distress but our interpretation of them. For example, one individual may interpret being laid off as an opportunity to find new and more exciting job opportunities while developing new skills. For someone else, losing a job may be perceived as a catastrophe because he or she thinks there will never be another opportunity as good as the old job.

In both cases it's the same event, but different interpretations lead to different reactions and emotions.

Cognitive behavioral theorists offer the following suggestions to help more adaptive and positive outcomes emerge from difficult life events:

-- Identify the event that is distressing you, e.g., losing a job.

-- Identify what kind of self-talk or thoughts this event triggers. For example: "I will never find another job as good as this one." "I am not good enough." "My boss is a jerk and should not have laid me off." "How am I going to pay the bills?"
-- Identify which thoughts are based in reality. Concerns about paying the bills may have some merit. But, take, for example, "I will never find another job as good as this one"; and "I am not good enough." Is this true? What evidence do you have? Or: "My boss is a jerk and should not have laid me off." The reality is that most likely no one promised you would never be laid off.

-- Seek solutions that will help you deal with those thoughts that are based in reality. If "I am not good enough" contains some truth because you do not have the skills the job market requires, what can you do? Get training? Go back to school? If so, the next step is to look into your options; it's in your control.

The truth is that no one can predict the future, and we can never say that we have control over all aspects of our lives. But it is up to us to identify those things we can change so we can stop being a victim of circumstance, and take back our self-efficacy and self-worth. That's what a "psychological stimulus package" can help you do.

Dr. Ivonne Chirino-Klevans joined Walden University in 2005 as a professor of organizational psychology and currently serves as Program Director for the Center for International Programs. The International Management Certificate is a post-bachelor business certificate designed to give business professionals in Latin America international business acumen and English language skills.

Her extensive experience includes years of working with Fortune 500 companies in designing training and development programs and serving as Program Director for Duke Corporate Education.

Dr. Chirino-Klevans received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Universidad Iberoamericana, and also holds an MBA from Universidad de las Americas, and a Masters in Psychology from Georgia College and State University. Earlier in her career, she also served as the psychologist for the Mexican national rowing team, and contributed to the team winning a silver medal at the 1991 Pan Am Games. She herself is a Pan American games medalist in gymnastics.

Source: (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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