Temporary derailment or the end of the line? Managers coping with unemployment at 50

Yiannis Gabriel, David E. Gray, Harshita Goregaokar

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Based on fieldwork conducted at the outset of the 2008 economic downturn, this paper examines the experiences of a group of unemployed managers and professionals in their fifties. Following a review of existing literature, the authors use a narrative methodology to explore how these people incorporate the experience of job loss into their self-images and identities. They identify certain core similarities in the experiences of unemployed professionals and then discern three narrative strategies through which unemployed professionals tried to make sense of their dismissal and sustain their sense of selfhood. The term 'narrative coping' is proposed as a way of describing each unemployed professional's struggle to construct a story that offers both meaning and consolation. The study reveals that individuals expressing the most profound despair (those for whom job loss was the 'end of the line') were those whose stories had achieved 'closure'. By contrast, most of those who maintained more open-ended narratives were better able to contain their emotions, either by holding on to the belief that unemployment was a temporary career aberration or by abandoning the idea that life is the same as career and by moving on to a new stage of experimentation and bricolage akin to an identity moratorium.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1687-1712
Number of pages26
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


  • identity
  • job loss
  • unemployment
  • narrative coping
  • psychological trauma
  • career narratives
  • storytelling methodology


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