Loss, learning and rebuilding: A case study of the phenomenon of involuntary job loss

Date of Completion

January 1999


Education, Adult and Continuing|Education, Guidance and Counseling|Psychology, Developmental|Education, Business




Most employed adults will change jobs or careers six to nine times during their working lives. Between 1985 and 1996 nineteen million Americans were adversely affected by corporate restructuring. Eighty-five percent of Fortune 500 companies have incurred lay offs over the past five years and one-hundred percent of the Fortune 500 plan to lay off workers within the next five years. Involuntary job loss is a reality all working people must face. ^ The research on involuntary job loss is drawn from several disciplines, career counseling, life transition, vocational education, and adult learning. These areas of study all acknowledge involuntary job loss as an important life event. Additionally, these literatures have well documented the mechanics of how to gain re-employment. However, all of these literatures call for a deeper exploration of the phenomenon of job loss. A qualitative, phenomenological research approach has been suggested as an underutilized but necessary approach to examine the experience of the unemployed person. ^ The point of view that organizes this study is that job loss is not an encapsulated event. Rather it is a multilayered phenomenon expressed by individual's description of the meaning of job loss in its many dimensions. These dimensions are reactions to the loss itself, the experience of learning in which the unemployed person engages, and the rebuilding process which includes re-employment. This study examines the phenomenon of involuntary job loss and the interrelationship between job loss and resulting life transitions. ^ The setting for this study was the “Connecticut Employment Seminar”, a ten-week career transition program. Qualitative case study methods were employed. Twenty-five seminar participants were observed, engaged in informal conversations and participated in exit interviews. Fifteen of these participants were interviewed six-months and one year following completion of the seminar. ^ The organizing perspectives reveal: job loss as a profoundly devastating experience in occupational, psychological, financial and social terms; the learning that followed was multi-leveled and a process of rebuilding which is presented in terms of focused and holistic transformation. Recommendations for future study and practice are presented to the reader. ^