Friday 12 June 2009

The double bereavement of job loss Part 1

In the early 1970s Elizabeth Kubler-Ross translated the findings of her extensive research into bereavement into what became known as the ‘Bereavement Curve’. As is so often the case, this diagrammatic representation of her thesis left a powerful impression on one’s mind; in parallel with the old adage that ‘a picture paints a thousand words’. Kubler-Ross summed up that those losing loved ones appeared to pass through seven stages of grief: shock, anger, denial, stress (either in the form of anxiety, or for some full-blown depression), apathy, acceptance and action.

Having worked as a freelance consultant in the field of redundancy counselling and performance coaching for 12 years, I am well versed in bastardising the ‘Bereavement Curve’ into what has also become known as the Change Curve. The fact of the matter is that human beings, in the main, are change averse. Often our security depends upon stability and routine combining to build up a sense of dependability and faith in the structures we surround ourselves. Often we subscribe to conventions to instil within us a sense of rhythm and repetition. Call it a ‘life beat’.

Job loss hits us hard primarily due to this breach of our life’s rhythm. Conventions lapse and the anchors with which we secure our routines are lost. For some, momentarily, and depending on how well we are prepared for change, for protracted and painful periods. Paradoxically, the more we wed ourselves to convention, the harder the flail of redundancy hits us. Let’s put it this way, the more indelibly etched the habits, the greater the turmoil.

The traditional psychological contract between employee and employer has shifted through 1800 from pre 1970 where employees were loyal to employing firms for providing jobs for life. To post 1990 where ‘The War for Talent’ (by Ed Michaels, Helen Handfield-Jones, and Beth Axelrod, Harvard Business Press), seeing companies battling for flexible workforces and the freedom to deliver ‘just-in-time’ products and services, meant that more and more companies struggled to instil any sense of loyalty in their workforce. And why should employees develop any sense of loyalty when the average number of jobs in career had shot up from one or two jobs in a lifetime to as many as 18 career transitions from job to job.

So if that is Bereavement Number 1, what is Bereavement Number 2……..?

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