Job Loss: Wishing you were somehow here again

“Too many years fighting back tears
Why can’t the past just die?
Wishing you were somehow here again
Knowing we must say, “Goodbye”
Try to forgive, teach me to live
Give me the strength to try
No more memories, no more silent tears
No more gazing across the wasted years”

Apologies to those of my readers this week who are not fans of Andrew-Lloyd Webber, and specifically Phantom of the Opera. These lyrics accompany the poignant graveyard scene whereby Christine, having discovered the Phantom is not the spirit of her father as she believed, realises she must let his memory go. It is unfortunate that grief is not resolved as simply as in this plot line.

The most pervasive model of grief is the “stage” model, implying a linear process moving through an emotional rollercoaster of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The model originates from the 1969 book “On death and dying” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who recorded the process she observed in terminally ill patients coming to terms with their demise. While the model has been highly criticised as unrepresentative of the “messy” reality of grief, it remains popular. Perhaps this is due to its simple promise that one day the negative feelings will end.

In my research into unemployment it was expected that I would come across references to job loss –  the catalyst of the unemployed state. What is surprising is the metaphors used to describe this experience – that even voluntary job loss is like “death” or the “death of a loved one”. Involuntary job loss is even more graphically described as being like “murder”. I think that HR professionals dealing with severances would also be shocked at the lengthy process those experiencing redundancy or retirement must go through to come to terms with the loss of their work-related identity. They carefully follow the procedure step by step. The employee seems accepting and is cut loose. What more can be done?

One issue may be that, in the interests of fairness, all employees are subject to the same procedure. A recent study by Martin & Lee (2016) has found that retiring managers deal with their severance based on the skills used throughout their careers; for example “Strategy” managers,”organisation” managers and “expert” managers all process their situation differently. Some of these categories were more likely to experience negative feelings or aportion blame that affected what activities they undertook post-retirement. This challenges the belief that all retirements are the same – happily received and spent on the golf course. In addition it highlights that, while it is widely acknowledged that career paths have changed beyond all recognition in the last few decades, retirement (and job loss) is still the same old rigid process that has always been followed.

This should be a call to action, but I anticipate that change will be slow. Not many organisations want to invest much thought in those who will soon be leaving. Retirement is a key concern of those who are approaching it, not those who will be remaining long after they are gone. But think of it like this – if careers continue to evolve on such a trajectory, alongside population aging and “shrinking talent pools” (see last week’s blog), then pretty soon the experienced retirees will be needed back (most likely as part-time consultants). Those who weren’t treated like individuals or who didn’t have the skills to cope are unlikely to run back into open arms. They’ll more likely be found on the golf course.


Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. Scribner: NY.

Martin, B. & Lee, M. (2016). Managers’ work and retirement: understanding the connections, Work, Employment and Society, 30(1), 21-39.

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