Psychologically Unemployable? What Does This Mean to You?

For a long time now, I have seen “Psychologically Unemployable” listed as an employer on friends’ Facebook profiles. I know that my friends do not work for companies called Psychologically Unemployable. I realize that they are trying to say that they are self-employed and that working for someone else is not their cup of tea.  People who use this term are probably trying to convey that they are living the self-employed “entrepreneur’s dream” and that they are not working in the conventional corporate space for a conventional employer.

Psychologically Unemployable, by Jeffery Combs, is a book about designing a life and career as it fits the entrepreneurial individual. He emphasizes the ideas of having dreams, creating your own freedom, building new life skills and going through life on your terms. These thoughts are awesome and I agree with each of his suggestions that I just mentioned. However, I have to believe that there could be another phrase that may show a little more sensitivity and compassion to others.

Truthfully, most of the people I know who say that they are psychologically unemployable are qualified for all kinds of employment. For several years, I worked in the mental health field. My formal and traditional education is psychology (undergraduate degree) and social work (graduate degree). As such, I have worked with many patients and clients who genuinely ARE psychologically unemployable. There are certain mental illnesses that make holding down a job nearly impossible and, in some cases, completely impossible. I have a soft spot in my heart for these people and their situations and I wonder if “psychologically unemployable” is really the best term for successful entrepreneurs.

I cannot put myself in the shoes of someone who is really and truly psychologically unemployable so I cannot imagine what it feels like. However, I DO know that I would not want it being used in an “entrepreneur chic” kind of way. These people go through life fighting through their psychological unemployment each and every day.

In my experience, being psychologically unemployable is a phrase that is only used by people in entrepreneurial settings and social service settings. Many people might not know what it means. For people who are not familiar with the new use of this term, I wonder how being psychologically unemployable might look. For example, if you are an entrepreneur and you are using Facebook to generate business, do you think that ALL of your potential clients would understand what being psychologically unemployable means to you? Might they perhaps think that you ARE unemployable? Might they think that you are being inconsiderate and uncaring? Might they wonder why you don’t list the ways in which you ARE employable?

I feel blessed that I AM employable, whether it be by myself or by someone else. I choose to employ myself but this certainly does not mean that I don’t have the abilities to work in a different setting. I know how to work on a team, in an office, in a multi-disciplinary setting, supervising others and reporting to others. I currently work by myself and for myself. It is wonderful and it is my choice. For these reasons alone, I feel lucky. I suppose that I could say that I am psychologically unemployable but I wouldn’t. I don’t want the word “unemployable” associated with my name and, even more than that, I want to be aware of others who do not have the same luxury of options that I have.

I’d really like to hear from people about this. What does being “psychologically unemployable” mean to you?

  • That term is new to me! I would actually think it was the latter kind that you discussed regarding people who literally are not employable due to severe mental illness. It is definitely borderline offensive to be used as *entrepreneurial chic*slang.

    Unrelated- the blog posts have been great lately, keep it up!

  • David Colister

    When I think of “psychologically unemployable” within the context of its use here, it sounds like you’re saying it’s a choice ~ those individuals are employable, and have the skills to get jobs, but choose not to work for somebody else; often in pursuit of entrepreneurial goals. Perhaps they never really feel comfortable working for somebody else. Maybe to them, working for anyone else is akin to slow death, a daily grind making somebody else rich. It is for me, as I’m a Creator, in the classic Rand sense ~ I have great ideas and plans that I need more time to bring to fruition. But, having to work my daily grind job, I don’t always have as much time to pursue to those entrepreneurial endeavors. I’ve never heard the term psychologically unemployable before I read your post. During the past two years, for most Americans being deemed unemployable wasn’t a choice or a psychological dilemma. You’ve made me think about it, and I still am… 🙂 Good article, Lauren! Sincerely, David Colister

  • I could definitely write a lot about my experiences working with people who ARE unemployable due to severe mental illness. Since the term is/WAS new to you, you might not have known what to think if you saw a possible hire describe him/herself as “psychologically unemployable”. I think it could really cause confusion! Thanks for the compliment about my writing, Einat!! 🙂

  • Hey David! I think that it is a choice for a lot of people I know who do use the term. On the other hand, I do not know anybody who IS psychologically unemployable (as determined by doctors or by the state) who would be public and describe him/herself as such on Facebook. I’m so glad that you are thinking about this; that was my exact goal!

  • From a different perspective Lauren; “psychologically unemployable” in some of my previous socio-economic circles means, “can’t keep a job,” as in constantly getting fired; job-hopping. I have seen it happen to normal folk, and I myself fit in that category. I have felt for some time, after hearing this from a nationally known TV journalist and commentator, that the average normal time frame for anyone at any job was five years. After that, burnout. I’ve had careers that have lasted 10, six, and four years, so maybe I’m right at that average. Then there is the “employability factor,” which in my case is “how many different jobs have you had in the past five years?” The simple answer to that is “three is too many.” Now, opportunity and circumstances may dictate changing jobs; who would not leave one job for another if that opportunity provided the three things anyone is looking for: 1) better pay; 2) better benefits effective sooner, and 3) opportunity for advancement. So, you stay in that same “rut,” or you change; once, twice, three times, four times. You got to a job that you really, really, REALLY want; it fits everything you (me) are looking for; you have a fanTAStic interview…….
    You get labeled that way. As David said above, at some point, working for yourself is the solution. It’s harder, takes longer, but the results are far more rewarding than just the income.

  • Christine

    When I read “Psychological Unemployable” I was immediately interested in reading more because, to me, the first reaction to those words were to mean that someone is not employed because of psychological reasons/difficulties. As I read the blog I was surprise to find out that it was a term used for “self employed” people. I agree that the term should be changed.

  • Hey Saber! I totally realize that there are different groups of people who are “unemployable” in the conventional way for a variety of reasons. One of my points here was to talk about the use of the term as it pertains to populations of people who are mentally ill. How do you feel about using the term to characterize BOTH categories?

  • Christine, that is the first thought that jumps to my mind, too. I’d like to see there be a new term or some way to differentiate the two! Thanks so much for reading! 🙂

  • “Psychologically unemployable” is a term I heard a while back….I thought it was kind of cool, but a little offensive. As you said about people thinking you might be un-employable it could be detrimental. It does sound cool to say it, but in reality even entrepreneurs who work for themselves are in a sense being employed by their clients.

    I find that I cater to my clients needs just as I cater to employers of mine. As of right now I’m parking cars at the Orlando Magic games and try to work as hard as possible to get people their cars ASAP. I consider that being good service, the same thing is true for my clients and I try to get things done ASAP for them.

    The whole concept of psychologically unemployable is cool to think about, but in reality I feel it’ll come back to nibble on the rear end in the long-term… Good post Lauren 🙂

  • You are exactly right, Chris! I really like your perspective on this (“kind of cool, but a little offensive”). That is how i feel. While I think that the idea of using a term LIKE “psychologically unemployable” is a good idea for certain entrepreneurs, I don’t think that exact term is the best fit. I do work for myself but (another good point, Chris!) my clients determine my income to an extent! Thanks for the compliment about the post and I have to thank you, too, for an awesome comment!

  • I agree with Christine and honestly that is what I thought as well.

  • Yes, I think the term could easily cause some confusion! Thanks for reading, Yusuf!

  • Lauren,

    It’s really interesting how sometimes a truly medical term can be adopted into the common lexicon as something that’s intended to have a completely different meaning. I agree that it can cause confusion and can be insensitive to the people who really are diagnosed as unemployable by their doctors.

    I think your call to create a new term for this is a good one, because in reality, as Chris mentions, it may backfire and cause others to attach a negative connotation as to how your work. I would understand someone who is “Psychologically Unemployable” to also be the type of person who can’t take direction and therefore won’t put my needs as a customer ahead of their own.

    In writing, saying something in the simplest way possible often leads to the best results. Entrepreneurial is a perfectly acceptable and powerful term to describe someone who both likes to work on their own and who works hard to solve others’ problems in unique and effective ways. We don’t need to look for new terms to describe something for which a great word already exists!

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post Lauren…as always, much appreciated!

  • To answer your Q, Lauren,

    I have lived it from the perspective I have discussed; and have witnessed other people live it as well. It is as much a socio-economic status as a mental one because lower-income people like myself do a lot of job-hopping for many reasons, and after a while they, and I, begin to wonder if something is wrong with us. No, we’re ok. We have families with young children, trying to scratch out a living. But when you lose a job for whatever reason — health (yours or your spouse); car broke down and you can’t get to your job; late to work one too many times because of circumstances beyond your control, even when you left early, then you begin to wonder if the deck is stacked against you. You can make an excuse, or try to do something about it. THEN there’s the new job you got but you have trouble getting to (ain’t that a B****!) because of your current circumstance; you’re SO broke you can’t take advantage of the opportunity that’s been placed in your hands.

    That whole process becomes mental, Lauren, and for some folks, if we think about it too much, “psychologically unemployable” takes on a whole new meaning.

  • Yes, Saber! I agree, to an extent, that the situation(s) you just mentioned are ones that could make someone psychologically unemployable! However, what you described is a process. It is something that happens over time. It isn’t the fresh-out-of-college entrepreneur who decides that he/she is never going to work in a typical job. Thanks for your thoughts about this!

  • Mariano, I would be hesitant to associate an “un”-anything with my name just because it sounds negative. I choose more positive terms. Additionally, combining “psychologically” and “unemployable” could backfire in so many ways, as you and Chris say. I think that some entrepreneurs are missing the point. Even though they are entrepreneurs, they are ALSO employed AND employable.

  • Wbryan48

    it means you have bipolar disorder perhaps

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