The upside of job loss

Study shows transition gives baby boomers chance to reassess career and priorities

While job loss is often seen as a stressful, negative experience, it can actually have some positive effects for baby boomers in senior management positions, according to a new study.

Unlocking the Careers of Business Professionals Following Job Loss looked at 30 senior managers (19 men and 11 women) over the age of 40 who had lost their jobs and were using an outplacement service in 2005.

“In the course of this career transition, they were actually able to make something good out of this opportunity,” said Jelena Zikic, assistant professor of HR at York University in Toronto and co-author of the study. “It was really an opportunity to reflect on their careers, to reassess what they had done so far and where can they go.”

Participants had held senior positions and were in the middle- to late-stages of their careers. Many could be characterized as workaholics, said Zikic.

In interviews with researchers, they reported their jobs didn’t allow them the time to reflect on their careers and they felt trapped in their routines. The job loss changed all of that.

“They were faced with all this time for themselves,” said Zikic.

The study found that, upon reflection, many of the participants realized they actually didn’t like their jobs and the job loss gave them the chance to escape one life and embark upon another.

Feelings about the job loss varied among participants. Immediately following the job loss, some felt a sense of loss or anxiety while others felt relief. As time passed, most began to feel more positive about the experience.

However, there were some who continued to have negative feelings about the experience.

“This was the case for some who still had very young children and felt a lot of pressure to go back to the workforce as soon as possible,” said Zikic.

While the need to provide for their children could drive participants back into the workforce faster, many realized their previous jobs had left them little time for their families, which led to some revelations, said Zikic.

“Many individuals realized they missed out on seeing their children grow up,” she said.

This lack of work-life balance among senior managers is an issue HR can address while these professionals are still employed, said Zikic.

HR professionals should approach these managers and inform them of the kinds of programs the organization has to help them better juggle the demands of their jobs and family before it’s too late, she said.

Job loss is almost always initially a negative experience, but if HR is aware of the potential positive side effects of a layoff and can share them in some way with people when they get the news, it can make the whole experience easier, said Zikic.

But HR doesn’t have to wait until someone is out the door to help them benefit from career exploration.

Some organizations already have programs in place that help “trigger this kind of thinking and re-evaluation during employment,” said Zikic.

The skills employees gain will benefit them wherever they go and whatever they do with their careers, whether they move within the organization or if they leave (voluntarily or involuntarily), said Zikic.

However, one HR expert doesn’t think organizations should spend too much time and resources on helping senior managers do career exploration or better manage their work-life balance.

“As an individual moves through his career, he has to accept more and more responsibility for his own destiny,” said Monica Belcourt, professor of HR at York University and the past president of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario.

Senior managers, late in their careers, have a lot of personal resources and there’s little an organization can offer them in terms of training because they have so much knowledge and experience already, said Belcourt.

An organization reaps more benefit from providing training, mentorship and work-life balance programs to a younger professional, straight out of school, said Belcourt.

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