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The dissolution of career in the lives of middle class, middle aged men Malek, Alard A.

Abstract

This grounded theory study investigated the experiences of 18 middle class, middle aged men who lost long term employment because of organizational restructuring. Limited research had previously been conducted in this area and this study extends our understanding about the impact of job loss on people who have lost long term employment. The purpose of the study was to explicate the lived experiences of these men and generate an explanation and model of how they reconstructed their understanding of career following job loss from long term employment. The men's experience of job loss and how they constructed career after the loss of long term employment were explained through a dynamic and interacting four stage process model of the dissolution of career. Stage 1, establishing career, explained how the men came to understand career as a relationship. For these men, career, as a relationship, was based on trust and was comprised of reciprocal terms believed to exist between the "good employee" and the "good employer." Over time, by fulfilling the terms of reciprocity, a psychological contract was established between the men and their employers. This contract contained mutual obligations, such as, employment security in exchange for employee commitment, loyalty, hard work, and sacrifice. Stage 2, the termination of employment, revealed how the experience of job loss signified a violation of the psychological contract. The men believed they had complied with the psychological contract; however, the employer's failure to provide employment security represented a violation of the psychological contract. This violation was a highly emotional experience, tantamount to a betrayal. Although compensation could represent the employer's effort to honour the employer/employee relationship, compensation in the form of severance pay was not adequate. Stage 3, disengaging from career, signified the period of time during which the men attempted to come to terms with the loss of career. The men attempted to secure new employment in a world of work different from the world in which they had begun their careers. Although the men sought employment that promoted the employer/employee relationship of career, seeking work revealed career as they had known it was unlikely in the new world of work. Past experience and educational upgrading had little effect on their ability to secure employment. Employers favoured inexpensive labour, immediate skills, and short term working relationships with employees. Generally, the men found themselves working in unstable jobs for less money. The men who secured stable work, gained job security through union membership or self employment instead of relying on the employer/employee relationship. The men's experiences during this stage underscored the experiences of the second stage. Stage 4, the dearth of career, represented the outcome of the men's experiences of the preceding stages. Although the men maintained previous definitions of career, they stated they had lost career and that career is no longer possible in the context of the new world of work. They were less trusting of employers. They favoured a transactional orientation towards work and stressed self interest in work relationships. Whereas, career provided a major source of purpose and meaning in the past, they constructed new purpose and meaning in life by reprioritizing other relationships in their lives, that is, with self, family, and friends. One wonders, however, whether life seemed less meaningful for the men who participated in this study because they maintained their definitions of career.

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