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High skilled foreign employees in Switzerland often feel rejected by their colleagues

In a thesis by publication Claire Johnston provides significant advances in the field of psychology about what helps or prevents people to get satisfaction in their job. Her work has been approved by several outstanding journals. One piece presents evidence of subtle forms of discrimination in Switzerland targeting more German and French employees, perceived as highly competitive, than immigrants from Southern Europe who seem warmer and less challenging.

Claire Johnston’s proficiency struck the audience when she defended her PhD dissertation on May 26, 2015 at the University of Lausanne. Jury members praised the quality of the publications linked to her thesis, which was developed in the framework of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES. One paper is still under revision in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, whereas three articles appeared in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, one in the Journal of Career Development, and one in Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology.

In the latter she shows, along with her co-authors, that French and German immigrants experience more incivility from their colleagues than immigrants of other nationalities. This subtle interpersonal form of discrimination encompasses hostile behaviours such as interrupting, ignoring or using a condescending tone. Other recent research had already observed that Swiss people perceive immigrants from immediate neighbour countries as highly competent but less likeable. Claire Johnston’s findings prove with figures that the concerned individuals resent this animosity.

From a sample consisting of 1661 employees, of which 18% were immigrants (among whom 43.4% came from France or Germany), people from Western Europe reported significantly higher scores of experienced incivilities than people from Southern and Eastern Europe. As a matter of fact, immigrants from Portugal or the Balkans with lower education level and lower status position did not complain about incivility more than the Swiss nationals did.

Highly skilled foreigners from neighbouring countries “are believed to integrate easily into the host country and labour market, and hence tend to be forgotten when designing measures to combat discrimination against immigrants”, notes the psychologist in her article.

Growing job insecurity

This finding is not the only one of Claire Johnston’s thesis. In the context of an increasingly complex labour market with growing job insecurity, demand for flexibility and decreasing long-term positions, she scrutinised different individual and professional characteristics and their relations to general and work-related well-being.

To do so she used many inputs from psychology like measures of personality and life satisfaction, as well as concepts like belief in a just world and organisational justice. Her data came from a representative sample of about 2000 residents in Switzerland, 94% employed and 6% unemployed, which were collected within a 7-wave longitudinal study on career paths conducted by the NCCR LIVES IP207. Only the two first waves (2012 and 2013) are included in Claire Johnston’s analysis.

Career adapt-ability

Claire Johnston notably elaborates on the concept of career adapt-ability, which is characterised by concern, control, curiosity, and confidence. It has already been shown that good levels of adapt-ability improve work engagement, job satisfaction, job search strategies, job tenure, and self-rated career performance.

The young psychologist contributed to methodological advances in measuring career adapt-ability and its relations to happiness and work stress. With IP207 team she validated a French and a German version of a career adapt-ability scale in order to use it in the Swiss context.

Claire Johnston’s thesis confirmed previous counter-intuitive research, that job search episodes may enhance adapt-ability resources: unemployed participants actually reported higher scores on career adapt-ability. This effect does not appear however for people with high job insecurity, who face “a more stressful and demanding professional context in which it is more difficult to activate and trigger the resources,” she notes.

It remains to be tested whether the adapt-ability of job seekers stays elevated in the long term or if there is only a limited “critical window” of time in which individuals have a higher chance to find employment. The researcher also suggests that interventions aimed at developing career adaptability should be designed and tested.

Having got her doctoral degree seven months ahead of the end of her contract, Claire Johnston will certainly use the remaining time to dig further. Work Psychology has much to gain from such a professional and adaptable researcher. Her competence should in fact frighten many, but as she is from South Africa and highly likeable, all is forgiven.

>> Johnston, Claire (2015). The contribution of individual and professional characteristics to general and work-related well-being. Supervised by Jérôme Rossier and Franciska Krings. University of Lausanne.

13th European Conference on Psychological Assessment in Zurich with sessions on life course

13th European Conference on Psychological Assessment in Zurich with sessions on life course

The biennal conference will take place this year at the University of Zurich on July 22-25, 2015. Chaired by Prof. Willibald Ruch, leader of the Personality and Assessment Unit in the Department of Psychology and a member of the NCCR LIVES, it will include a session on "Opportunities and challenges of longitudinal perspectives" and a session on "Vulnerabilities and resources at work and in career development".

Session 1
Opportunities and challenges of longitudinal perspectives

Thursday, July 23, 2015: 9:45am - 11:15am

Time poses several challenges to longitudinal perspectives, an example of this would be when it comes to ensure measurement invariance of constructs or to assess people evaluations of past events. This symposium brings together researchers from the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES and those interested in longitudinal perspectives to explore these challenges and discuss the opportunities they also entail.

First, introducing the issue of measurement invariance, Jeannette Brodbeck and colleagues examine standardized inventories of marital satisfaction and psychopathological symptoms. In two 2-waves studies on married individuals and on patients before and after psychotherapy, respectively, this team presents the evolution of these constructs over time.

Oriane Sarrasin then showcases the invariance of a 5-item self-esteem scale with multigroup confirmatory factor analyses in the tumultuous context of late adolescence and young adulthood. Her results highlight that changes in self-esteem of this vulnerable population are mainly related to changes in their satisfaction with their body image.

Finally, Davide Morselli and colleagues present life-history calendars as a means to approach past events. Their work compares respondents’ subjective evaluations of their personal trajectory obtained with graphical representations or a differential scale and pinpoints advantages of life-history calendars.

Chairs: Grégoire Bollmann, University of Lausanne, Christian Maggiori, University of Applied Sciences and Arts - Western Switzerland (NCCR LIVES IP207)
Discussant(s): Jérôme Rossier, University of Lausanne (NCCR LIVES IP207)

  • Longitudinal measurement invariance issues illustrated by examples of marital satisfaction in later life and the structure of psychopathology before and after psychotherapy
    Jeannette Brodbeck, Hansjörg Znoj, Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello, 
University of Bern (NCCR LIVES IP212)
  • Measuring self-esteem among young adults in different educational tracks: A longitudinal perspective
    Oriane Sarrasin
, University of Lausanne (NCCR LIVES IP201)
  • The use of Life-History Calendar Methods (LHC) to assess subjective evaluation of the personal life trajectory
    Davide Morselli, Dario Spini, Nora Dasoki, Elenya Page
, University of Lausanne (NCCR LIVES IP201)

Session 3
Vulnerabilities and resources at work and in career development

Friday, July 24, 2015: 9:45am - 11:15am

Within the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES, vulnerabilities and resources can be conceived at multiple levels. Here we bring together researchers interested to track down various forms and sources of these two concepts in the domains of career development and work. This symposium will showcase a collection of newly developed instruments investigating the multiple levels at which vulnerabilities and resources can be experienced and respectively garnered, namely within individuals, in their interpersonal relationships or the broader normative context.

Starting within individuals in career development, Shékina Rochat and Jérôme Rossier explore the validity of the career decision-making difficulties scale and its relationship with various forms of self-esteem.

Sgaramella and colleagues then identify future orientation and resilience as relevant resources for individuals’ career and life paths. The next two talks then proceed with vulnerabilities and resources in individuals’ interpersonal and normative context.

Introducing humor at work, Jennifer Hofmann and Willibald Ruch validate a short instrument of dispositions toward ridicule and laughter and present their relations with work related outcomes.

Finally, Grégoire Bollmann and Sébastien Mena examine people endorsement of the free market system as an institution permeating society and its implications for the self and decision-making at work.

Chairs: Grégoire Bollmann, Claire Johnston, Jérôme Rossier, University of Lausanne (NCCR LIVES IP207)

  • Validation of the Career Decision-Making Difficulties Scale (CDDQ) in a Francophone context
    Shékina Rochat, Jérôme Rossier, 
University of Lausanne
  • More complex times require more attention to future orientation, resilience and methodological choices in Life Design approach
    Teresa M. Sgaramella, Laura Nota, Lea Ferrari, Maria Cristina Ginevra, I. DiMaggio, 
Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy
  • Validation of the PhoPhiKat-9 (Short Form) in a workplace context
    Jennifer Hofmann, Willibald Ruch
, University of Zurich
  • Believing in a free market system: Implications for the self and the society
    Grégoire Bollmann, University of Lausanne, Sébastien Mena, City University London

>> Conference website

Image iStock © Felix Renaud

Young adults’ excess death rate is not inevitable but the result of social inequality

Early adulthood comes with an increase in the risk of death. There are three possible explanations for this phenomenon: “internal turmoil” linked to the psychological development of the adolescent, the impact of the socio-economic environment surrounding the assumption of new adulthood roles, or a selection effect due to the presence of a small group of particularly exposed individuals. In a doctoral thesis successfully defended on 21 May 2015 at the University of Geneva, Adrien Remund resolves this enigma by largely ruling out the first hypothesis.

The temporary increase in the risk of death at the end of adolescence is a phenomenon that was first identified over a century ago. Although this abnormally high mortality rate has been extensively documented and recognised in demography, it has never been clearly defined, measured or explained.

Adrien Remund’s doctoral study fills those gaps. Undertaken within the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES at the University of Geneva, his dissertation shows that the presence of a very small vulnerable sub-population is enough to generate a mortality bump without any individual actually experiencing an increase in their personal risk of death.

Contrary to the vision shared until now by certain demographers and a number of (neuro)psychologists, the high death rate among young adults is not, therefore, primarily linked to a spread of dangerous behaviours during this phase of life, but rather to the presence of particularly pronounced social, economic and biological inequalities within this age group. Once the most exposed individuals have been taken out of the equation, the mortality curve resumes a more even trajectory.

To obtain these results, the researcher tested different theoretical hypotheses applying several methodological tools, some of which already existed and some of which were newly developed. He analysed the mortality statistics of more than 10,000 different population groups using the Human Mortality Database, which covers four centuries and four continents.

Remund's findings reveal that the high mortality rate among young adults is neither universal, nor limited to adolescents, nor caused solely by accidents and suicides. Prior to World War II, the phenomenon could be mainly attributed to tuberculosis and maternal mortality.

The young demographer also used the Swiss death records compiled by the Swiss National Cohort to study inequalities among young people in relation to death at a more local level, by observing survival rates between the ages of 10 and 34 in a cohort of approximately 375,000 residents born between 1975 and 1979.

Sub-populations at risk

The Swiss data revealed the presence of inequalities "exceeding all expectations", particularly with regard to gender, level of education, type of household and socio-professional status. As the vulnerability factors combine, risk ratios ranging from 1 to 100 are found between the most privileged and most vulnerable profiles. For the researcher, this proves that it is not an inevitable phenomenon.

"No, the abnormally high mortality rate among young adults is not an inevitability, as numerous historical populations and a large proportion of the young people growing up in Switzerland avoid it. While road accidents and suicides do currently represent the main challenge in terms of public health policy, history teaches us that, in the past, non-violent causes of death greatly contributed to the high death rate among young adults. Indeed, the socio-economic context of the transition to adulthood brings about huge inequalities in the risk of death, which can explain the high mortality rate among young adults much better than theories based purely on the neuropsychological development of the adolescent," Remund concludes in his thesis.

The demographer hopes that his conclusions will have an impact on future public health policies aimed at young adults. He thinks that research should however go further: "I could definitely dedicate my whole career to this subject", he said during his viva on 21 May.

"A fundamental point of reference"

Carlo Giovani Camarda, a member of the jury and researcher at the Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) in Paris, stated that this thesis will be a “fundamental point of reference".

The other members of the jury also noted the "boldness", "innovation" and "interdisciplinarity" of the thesis. "You have the ability to make complicated things simpler," said France Meslé, Director of Research at INED.

Adrien Remund will have many more opportunities to exchange with these two specialists over the coming months, as he has already obtained an early postdoc grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation, which will enable him to spend some time at their prestigious institution.

>> Remund, Adrien (2015). Jeunesses vulnérables ? Mesures, composantes et causes de la surmortalité des jeunes adultes. Supervised by Michel Oris. University of Geneva.

Factorial Survey Designs in Labor Market Research: joint workshop NCCR On the Move & NCCR LIVES

Factorial Survey Designs in Labor Market Research: joint workshop NCCR On the Move & NCCR LIVES

The Workshop “Factorial survey designs in labor market research” took place on 21 May 2015 at the University of Lausanne. The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research "On the Move" was the main organiser. Their post-doc researcher Flavia Fossati, based at the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP) in Lausanne, prepared a short report of the event.

Factorial Survey Designs in Labor Market Research. An Epilogue.


The Workshop “Factorial survey designs in labor market research” took place on 21 May 2015 at the University of Lausanne.

Our four guests, Prof. Katrin Auspurg (Goethe University Frankfurt), Prof. Marc Gurgand (Paris School of Economics), Prof. Dominik Hangartner (London School of Economics) and Andreas Scheck (Goethe University Frankfurt), presented their recent work on survey experiments. Moreover, our three local research teams (Integration through Active Labor Market Policies and Discrimination as an Obstacle to Social Cohesion of the NCCR – On the Move as well as Education and Employment of the NCCR LIVES) had the possibility to present their planned experimental designs. Besides lively discussions on the different presentations, all research teams obtained valuable feedbacks on their specific projects from both speakers and the audience.

In particular, we discussed pivotal issues such as how to best address low response rates and social desirability biases, how to validate experimental data with behavioral benchmarks and – last but not least – whether conjoint analyses, choice experiments or vignette studies perform best.

The attendance of 25 national and international guests from three different disciplines (sociology, political science and economics) allowed us to network and establish new professional contacts. The discussion benefitted a lot from the researchers’ interdisciplinarity, which opened new perspectives on the various questions.

Flavia Fossati, NCCR – On the Move, PostDoc on the project Integration through Active Labor Market Policies