Job Insecurity: a challenge or hindrance stressor? by Prof. Hans De Witte

Prof. dr. Hans De Witte, from Research Group Work, Organisational & Personnel Psychology, Faculty of Psychology & Educational Sciences, KU Leuven, Belgium, will give this conference about job insecurity, organized by LIVES. Job insecurity refers to subjective concerns about the continued existence of the actual job, alternatively defined as the perceived threat of job loss and the worries related to that threat. In this lecture, a short overview of job insecurity research will be presented, focussed on some of the ‘popular assumptions’ in media and consultancy nowadays: that job insecurity motivates employees (e.g. it constitutes a challenge) rather than being a factor that demotivates (e.g. a ‘hindrance’).

  • Where: Université de Lausanne, Géopolis, salle 5799, CH-1015 Lausanne
  • When: 12 October 2018, from 16h00 to 17h15
  • Organisation : Dr. Ieva Urbanaviciute and Prof. Jérôme Rossier
  • Contact for more information:
  • Registration
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Experiencing burn-out or depression can also bring personal growth in the long run

A thesis in psychology presented by Hannah Klaas at the University of Lausanne on 24 September 2018 shows that many people who have suffered from mental illness have also found that aspects of their experience have been positive for their personal development and their relationships with others. This takes time, and stigmatisation certainly doesn’t help. But do not we say that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger?

Research in psychology rarely deals with large samples of "normal" populations. However, Hannah Klaas had this opportunity at the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES. Using data from the Swiss Household Panel, which tracks thousands of households longitudinally right across Switzerland year after year, she was able to extract a sub-sample of 682 people who have had a serious health problem during their lifetimes, half of whom suffered from a physical ailment, while the other half was made up of people who have suffered from a mental health problem: mainly depression, burn-out or anxiety.

In writing her thesis she had several objectives: to determine the place that the illness had taken in the identity of these people, to observe how social context, social support and stigmatisation influence recovery and development, and finally to compare the lived experiences depending on whether the ailment had affected the body or the mind. Indeed, it has been known for around thirty years that traumatic experiences such as disasters, interpersonal violence or physical health problems can ultimately have a positive impact on personal development. However, apart from a few poorly disseminated, mainly qualitative, studies, the consequences of mental illness on what is called adversarial growth has never been observed quantitatively.

Personal growth and relationships with others

The thesis by Hannah Klaas clearly demonstrates that various positive aspects can come from mental health problems such as depression, burn-out or anxiety, both in terms of personal fulfilment and in changes in relationships with other people. 60% of those taking part in the study reported a significant or moderate degree of personal growth, and 35% had experienced some positive changes since the illness.

Those for whom the disease has become an inherent part of their identity exhibit more signs of adversarial growth. They consider that they have become more understanding, more tolerant and stronger after having gone through this hardship, and claim to have a greater appreciation of life. Many remark that the situation has allowed them to arrange their lives better, for example by ending relationships seen as unhealthy, or by becoming more aware of problem areas in their lives.

“This effect is most evident in people who have had psychotherapy,” notes Hannah Klaas. On the other hand, whether or not an individual has received drug medication has no connection, either positive or negative, with this personal development. In this study, those people who state that they have grown through the adversity that they have experienced are in no way differentiated by their socio-demographic characteristics. "We are talking about the development of intra-personal and social skills, which has no connection with the level of education", the researcher notes in order to explain this broad representation of different social backgrounds.

Over time...

Is it a question of resilience? "It's not a question of going back to a pre-illness state, but rather of a personal development which goes far beyond that," explains Hannah Klaas. Moreover, her thesis indicates that the link between centrality of identity and personal growth is becoming increasingly apparent over time, particularly when the symptoms and the direct impacts of the illness have ceased.

The age at which the psychological problems started also counts, but only to a moderate extent. For certain aspects, adversarial growth seems to be more prevalent among people aged 40 or older. “For some also earlier, but when you're in the middle of your life and you have more experience, it might be easier to find meaning or a reason for your illness, to accept it and to take positive aspects from it for your relationships with others. Or perhaps at this stage you are more ready to make changes in your life?”, suggests the doctoral student.

Discrimination and recovery

Her thesis also shows that people who have suffered severe discrimination because of their state of health find it harder to see themselves as cured. However, and very interestingly, adversarial growth helps people to cope with stigmatisation. People who have experienced some form of stigmatisation benefit more from their personal fulfilment: when they have managed to transcend these problems and have “grown” as a result, they show high levels of subjective recovery. This personal development therefore contributes more to the recovery of persons discriminated against for a mental illness, compared to victims of physical illnesses discriminated against or to other patients who have not been stigmatised. However, it is not essential to have experienced personal development in the face of adversity to feel cured, because 25% of the people questioned felt that they had recovered without noticing any significant progress in their personal development.

Social support

Social support is crucial. Joining a support group, being part of an association or joining a club all encourage adversarial growth. On the other hand, people who suffer from loneliness and isolation find it harder to make sense of their difficulties, even if they lie in the past.

It should be noted that the sample consisted mainly of people who have already had their health problem for at least two years, for whom the direct impacts of the condition have ceased or who have become used to managing the problem, and who have come to accept their illness and are willing to talk about it. In addition, these people have a higher than average level of trust in others. Swiss nationals and academics are also over-represented in the sample, although their rating of adversarial growth  is no higher than in other social categories.

There is hence a high probability that the most vulnerable individuals have not been adequately represented in the study, either because they hide their illness or because they have not been diagnosed. Moreover, the analysis of a sub-group showing low cure rates shows that these people (10%) are more afraid of talking about their illness and report a lower level of adversarial growth. These are also people who indicate more instances of being stigmatised, who receive less social support, and less often belong to groups.


For Hannah Klaas, the most important message of her thesis is that mental illness should not be a taboo, and that "positive things can even come out of it, such as gaining a better understanding of one's strengths or being able to put an end to a toxic relationship." She recommends that the creation of support groups be encouraged, with the particular aim of developing a positive identity in people with illnesses, and of fighting stigma even more, because “people are more than their health problem.”

According to the researcher, more on-line information is needed on recovery and the opportunities for adversarial growth aimed at those affected and their close ones, and even campaigns in schools to gain a better understanding of these phenomena: “We learn what cancer is, but never depression. For example, it is a little known fact that half of the people who suffer from depression experience only one episode during their lifetimes.”

>> Hannah Klaas(2018). Identity, adversarial growth and recovery from mental and physical health problems. Under the supervision of Dario Spini. Université de Lausanne

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"Why the brain struggles to get off the sofa"

Researchers at UNIGE have observed that the brain has a natural tendency to make as little effort as possible, and that it has to summon numerous resources to counter this affinity for the sedentary lifestyle.

About 30% of adults and 80% of teenagers today do not meet the minimum levels of daily physical activity for staying healthy, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Previous studies have already demonstrated that there is a gap between the intentionto play sport and actually playing it among individuals with a leaning towards a sedentary lifestyle. But what happens in the brain to prevent intention being followed by action?

Researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG), Switzerland, have studied the neuronal activity of people faced withmaking the choice between physical activity and doing nothing.They noted that the brain requires far greater resources to escape ageneral attraction to minimising effort. A struggle then breaks out between the desire to do nothing and the physical activity. The results, published in the journal Neuropsychologia, are consistent with the idea that our ancestors had to avoid unnecessary physical effort to increase their chances of survival – which, of course, is no longer necessary in our modern societies.

Many people take out membership of a fitness club or gym but never set foot inside. This type of behaviour, which the researchers termed the “physical activity paradox”, has been demonstrated by earlier studies that contrasted the controlled system based on reason – I have to play sport to be healthy – with the automatic system based on affect – the discomfort and fatigue experienced during physical activity. When there is conflict between reason and affect, the physical activity behaviour is not implemented, and the individual tends to remain sedentary. But what happens at the neuronal level? The research team headed by Boris Cheval, (a researcher at NCCR LIVES at the Faculty of Medicine at UNIGE and HUG), and Matthieu Boisgontier (a researcher at Leuven University, Belgium, and University of British Columbia, Canada), studied the neuronal activity of 29 people, all of whom wanted to be active in their daily lives without necessarily being so. The participants had to choose between physical activity and inactivity while the researchers probed their brain activity using an electroencephalograph equipped with 64 electrodes.

Less time but more resources

“We made participants play the “manikin task” which involved steering a dummy towards images representing a physical activity, and subsequently moving it away from images portraying sedentary behaviour. They were then asked to perform the reverse action,” explains Boris Cheval. The researchers compared the differences in the time. We found that participants took 32 milliseconds less to move away from the sedentary image, which is considerable for a task like this,” continues Boris Cheval. It was an outcome that went against the theory and the physical activity paradox. So, how can it be explained? The answer lies in the power of reasoning. The participants shunned the sedentary image faster than they approached it for two reasons: first, because this action was consistent with the instructions given by the researchers; and, more importantly, because it was in keeping with their intention to be physically active. Accordingly, they called on the resources needed to break free from their natural inclination, which drives them to minimise their efforts and react quickly to counter this “instinct”.

“On the other hand,” points out Boris Cheval, “we observed that the electrical activity associated with two brain zones in particular, the fronto-medial cortex and the fronto-central cortex, was much higher when the participant had to choose the sedentary option.” These two areas represent the struggle that takes place between reason and the affects, and the capacity to inhibit natural tendencies, respectively.“ This means the brain has to use much more resources to move away from sedentary behaviour, rather than follow its natural penchant for minimising effort.”

Fighting the legacy of evolution

Where does this inclination for sedentary behaviour come from? “Making as little effort as possible was crucial for the human species during evolution”, says the researcher. “This orientation towards saving and conserving resources increased the chances of survival and reproduction.” Today, however, our modern society renders this energy optimisation obsolete. “On the contrary, physical activity should be encouraged instead of putting temptations in the way to do less, such as escalators or elevators. For instance, we could modify the waypublic spaces are designed to reduce the opportunities for individuals to engage spontaneously in behaviour associated with minimising effort.”

>> Contact: 22 379 89 42

Source: press release UNIGE (18/09/18)

New video : "Misleading norms - The Everyday Story of Louise"

The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES produced a short 6-minute animated movie about the life course of a woman in Switzerland. It shows the different steps which may lead from a worry-free childhood to vulnerability at old age. The story is inspired by different research results that LIVES members published about gender inequalities.

Making : y-en-a·com sàrl

All LIVES videos are on Viméo

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The working poor makes up 8% of Swiss population. Without social benefits, this would be doubled

In an article for the Social Change in Switzerland series, Eric Crettaz describes the four mechanisms which lead to such a high number of working poor in Switzerland. Both income poverty and material deprivation are analysed with new data to demonstrate which social categories suffer the most. Distribution of benefits by the social welfare system halves the number of working poor.

Working poverty is a reality in Switzerland. Approximately 8% of households where at least one person works earn less than 60% of the average income. Without the range of existing social benefits, the rate of working poor in Switzerland would be 15%.

Eric Crettaz used the data from the 2015 SILC (Survey on Income and Living Conditions) to measure both income poverty and material deprivation. The rate of material deprivation is defined by households forgoing at least three commodities, such as taking holidays, being able to cover an unexpected expense, adequately heating the home, or owning a range of appliances.

The rate of material deprivation indicates an enduring difficult financial situation. In Switzerland, this is the case for 3% of households with members in gainful activity. This includes mainly people under 40, people with few qualifications, immigrants from outside Europe, and single-parent households. Couples with more than three children and independent workers represent a significant part of the population of working poor, but suffer less from material deprivation.

According to Eric Crettaz, this difference is explained by the four mechanisms which lead to working poverty: less work than the average household, low pay, a higher than average number of children per adult, and insufficient or no social benefits, particularly for ineligible households. As a result, single-parent families and migrants are more likely to suffer both income poverty and material deprivation because their vulnerability is due to an accumulation of factors.

>> Crettaz, E. (2018). La pauvreté laborieuse en Suisse : étendue et mécanismes / Working Poor in der Schweiz: Ausmass und Mechanismen. Social Change in Switzerland No 15. Retrieved from

Contact:  Eric Crettaz, +41 22 388 95 32,

The series Social Change in Switzerland documents the evolution of Switzerland’s social structure. It is edited by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Life Course and Inequalities Research Centre of the University of Lausanne LINES , and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES). The aim is to monitor change in employment, family, income, mobility, voting, or gender in Switzerland. Based on cutting edge empirical research, the series targets a wider audience than just academic experts.

iStock © Dean Mitchell

"Online psychology to help people cope with loss is gaining ground in the French-speaking world"

A team of psychology researchers at the University of Lausanne are about to repeat a highly successful Swiss-German experiment, involving online support for people suffering from bereavement or divorce. The first French version of this online therapy will be followed by a second one, aimed at reaching a greater number of users throughout the world. The project especially wants to find out if the method works just as well without guidance.

The death of a spouse or a life partner, together with divorce and separation, are among the most stressful life course events, and some people struggle to recover from them. There are many similarities between the two situations, such as experiencing an unbearable tension between objective reality and how things should be in the eyes of the person left behind.

While most people manage to regain a feeling of purpose in their lives after a few months, 10 to 15% of those affected by the two different types of loss experience complex symptoms of grief, which particularly manifest themselves through intense, persistent suffering for more than six months, permanent preoccupation, an undisputed difficulty in accepting the departure, feelings of identity loss, an inability to imagine the future without the other person, among many others.

A recognised disorder

The American Psychiatric Association entered persistent complex bereavement disorder into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 2013, and in 2018 the World Health Organisation (WHO) plans to include the diagnosis of prolonged grief disorder in the eleventh International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11).

In this regard, computer-supported therapy may be an effective method to help people overcome pathological grief, as was demonstrated by a successful study conducted by a team from the University of Bern from 2016 to 2017, in association with the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, also linked to a series of online self-healing programmes popularised by Prof. Thomas Berger.

Thanks to the involvement of two members of NCCR LIVES IP212, Prof. Valentino Pomini and Dr. Anik Debrot, a lecturer at the University of Lausanne's Institute of Psychology, the online grief support project, known as LIVIA, has been extended to French-speaking Switzerland and France. A PhD candidate and several Masters' students are also involved in this research.

Results 'exceed expectations'

The Lausanne team emphasises that the results of the experiment conducted in Bern by Prof. Hansjörg Znoj and Dr Jeannette Brodbeck, in collaboration with Professor Berger, 'exceeded expectations'. Conducted on 110 people suffering from complicated grief, the LIVIA study compared the progress of participants who had undergone the treatment with a control group of people on the waiting list.

After ten weeks, the patients' levels of psychological distress, depression, embitterment and loneliness had diminished when compared to those of the control group, which still remained extremely high, and their degree of life satisfaction improved significantly.

Advice and exercises

The treatment starts with a range of information about the grieving process. This is followed by advice and exercises aimed at accepting reality of the loss, processing the pain of grief, adjusting to a world without the person who is no longer there, and relocating the connection with the lost person. In the Bern experiment, participants also received encouraging messages, reminders and questions in order to keep patients highly motivated or help them overcome possible difficulties in completing programme tasks.

The researchers emphasise that there are many advantages to online therapy: the process is anonymous, easy to access, inexpensive and does not depend on the quality or availability of a clinician. Patients can go at their own pace, a feature that will be augmented in the future French version where it will also be possible to decide on the order of the sequences.

Without email guidance

There will be two phases to the Lausanne project: the first pilot phase will offer the LIVIA programme in French along the same lines as the German version, but without the supportive messaging. The argument is that results could be equally as good without email guidance.

The second phase will test the new French version of LIVIA, which has shorter, more standardised modules, and includes videos and a discussion forum for participants. The information and tasks provided will be strongly influenced by the latest advances in positive psychology to ensure they meet the four basic psychological needs, namely orientation and control, attachment, pleasure and self-worth.

300 million French speakers

According to Anik Debrot, "there is a boom in online therapies, but very few have been scientifically tested in French, and no validated study in this language yet exists on the issue of grief."

Yet the potential pool of patients is enormous, with 300 million French speakers throughout the world. If a more standardised online therapy without guidance and offering greater flexibility works as well as the guided process, it could reach a far greater number of people.

Little space for grief

In an age when death is no longer accompanied by as many religious and social rites as in the past, and now that divorce is generally widespread, anybody may be affected by complicated grief without necessarily finding a suitable space in which they can try to overcome it.

The LIVIA project, approved by the Ethics Committee on research involving humans of the Canton of Vaud, could therefore provide a welcome helping hand to those suffering the loss of a loved one in silence, and who haven't yet found a path to recovery. People who are interested in taking part in the pilot study can get in touch with the team.

>> Contact: Anik Debrot,, 021 692 32 88

>> Register online (in French)

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Sexual behaviour of young people in Switzerland: A lot has changed in 20 years

Overall, youth in Switzerland report a healthy sexuality. This is the main conclusion of a national survey on health and sexual behavior of adolescents and young adults carried out by the Lausanne University Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (IUMSP / CHUV), the University Hospital of Zurich and the NCCR LIVES. Other findings show that online sex is increasing, and women continue to be overrepresented in the cases of unwanted sexual experiences and sexual abuse.

A team of researchers from the IUMSP/CHUV, Zurich University Hospital and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES at the University of Lausanne conducted a survey on sexual and reproductive health of young adults during the second semester of 2017. 7142 people aged between 24 and 26 years and living in Switzerland participated in the study. The last survey centered on the sexual and reproductive health young adults in Switzerland was carried out in 1995. A fair amount of new developments have appeared in these last twenty years.

Results show that overall 94% of females and 89% of males had ever been in a steady relationship. Around three out of every four participants were currently in one such relationship. The great majority (95%) of respondents had ever had sexual partners, most of them between 2 and 7. About 5% had never had a sexual partner. Most (94%) had also had had sexual partners in the past 12 months, but in this case it was mainly only one. Over 70% of males and females had ever had casual sexual partners, but the percentage decreased to around only one quarter in the last 30 days.

Sexual practices

The majority of respondents (86%) had only had heterosexual contacts, however 15% of females and 13% of males had either homosexual or bisexual experiences. The mean age at first sexual contact was just under 17 years. Almost all respondents (96%) had ever had oral sex, most of them with an opposite-sex partner. The vast majority (95%) had had vaginal sex and half of respondents had it at least weekly. The same percentage of females and males (49%) reported ever having had anal intercourse. Participants reporting having had sex with multiple partners at the same time, using medication to enhance sexual performance, or being blackmailed were a small minority. Those having ever had intercourse with someone met on the Internet accounted for 22% of females and 35% of males.

Around 90% of both males and females reported being only or strongly attracted to people of the opposite sex, and males (4.6%) outnumbered females (1.8%) in reporting same sex attraction. It is worth noting that 0.6% of females and 0.4% of males declared not feeling attracted to anyone. The vast majority of participants (92%) described themselves as heterosexuals, around 6% homosexuals or bisexuals, slightly under 2% did not know and 0.6% indicated the option other.

More than half of males (56%) and 46% of females had ever had intercourse while intoxicated. An important percentage (45%) of youths had ever had HIV testing, with females slightly outnumbering males. Almost all reported a negative result. Close to one youth in 10 reported ever having had a diagnosed sexually transmitted infection. Chlamydia was the most commonly reported among females and males.


The vast majority (93%) of respondents had used some kind of contraception / protection at their first intercourse, mainly male condoms. However, at last intercourse contraception / protection methods were more equally distributed between male condom and contraceptive pill. All other contraception methods represented less than 5%, with the exception of intrauterine device (IUD) and vaginal ring. Almost half of females had ever used emergency contraception and close to two-fifths of males reported their partner having ever used it. Respondents indicating that they (or their partner) used emergency contraception as their main contraception method were very few.

Online sex

Males outnumbered females in online sexual activity. Almost 3 out of 4 reported having already sent a sexy text-only message without photo, a sexy photo and / or a video of themselves. On the other end, almost 80% of participants had already received such messages. There were no gender differences for these two actions. However, 22% reported having already forwarded such messages to other persons without consent. In this case, males were overrepresented.

Males were slightly more likely than females to have received something or obtained an advantage in exchange of sexual intercourse, but it remained a small minority. On the contrary, males clearly outnumbered females in ever giving something or offering an advantage in exchange of sexual intercourse. There was an important difference in lifetime unwanted sexual experiences and in having ever been victim of sexual assault or abuse between females and males, with females largely outnumbering males.

Contacts :

  • Prof Joan-Carles Suris, CHUV, Institut universitaire de médecine sociale et préventive, 021 314 73 75 / 079 556 84 29
  • Prof Brigitte Leeners, Universitätsspital Zürich, Klinik für Reproduktions-Endokrinologie, 044 255 50 09
>> Barrense-Dias, Y., Akre, C., Berchtold, A., Leeners, B., Morselli, D., Suris, J-C. (2018). Sexual health and behavior of young people in Switzerland. Lausanne, Institut universitaire de médecine sociale et préventive.