Temporary derailment or the end of the line: unemployed managers at 50

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Document type
Working Paper
Gabriel, Yiannis; Gray, David E; Goregaokar, Harshita
Royal Holloway, University of London
Date of publication
1 April 2009
School of Management Research Paper Series
People management: all aspects of managing people
Business and management
Material type

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Based on fieldwork conducted at the outset of the current economic downturn, this paper examines the experiences of a group of unemployed managers and professionals in their fifties. Following a review of existing literature, the authors use a narrative methodology to explore how these people incorporate the experience of job loss into their self-images and identities. They identify certain core similarities in the experiences of unemployed professionals and then discern three narrative strategies through which unemployed professionals tried to make sense of their dismissal and sustain their sense of selfhood. The first approached job loss as a temporary career derailment and insisted on seeing a future as a resumption of career, no matter how implausible such a prospect appeared to others. The second saw the job loss as the end of the line – a traumatic event, the product of cruelty, injustice and unfairness, from which there is no prospect of resuming or salvaging a career. The third narrative strategy accepted job loss as a radical discontinuity but refused to lapse into despondency, self-blame or in extreme blame and vilification of others. Instead, it attributed it to social factors, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to other uncontrollable forces, towards which they adopted a philosophical attitude, seeking to live within their means and engage in temporary paid and unpaid work, studies and other creative activities. The term ‘narrative coping’ is proposed as a way of describing each unemployed professional’s struggle to construct a story that offers both meaning and consolation. The paper is intended as a contribution to two academic fields that in the past have generally stayed well clear of each other. One addresses the psychological consequences of job loss, along with coping mechanisms and the effectiveness of interventions intended to aid the unemployed. The second addresses narrative constructions of identity and career among professionals, focusing specifically on the effects of job loss on the way people construct and sustain their life stories.

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