Changing economic conditions in the United States over the past few decades (such as the move toward a global economy and most recently the economic recession), as well as changing demographics, have forced many people out of their jobs. Heavy man­ufacturing and support businesses (such as the steel, oil, and automotive industries) and farming were the hardest hit during the 1970s and 1980s. But no one is immune. Take the banking industry today. Indeed, the corporate takeover frenzy of the 1980s and the recession of the late 2000s put many middle – and upper-level corporate executives out of work in all kinds of businesses.

As a result of these trends, many people feel inse­cure about their jobs. Like Dirk, the auto worker in the vignette at the beginning of this section, many worried workers have numerous years of dedicated service to a corporation. Unfortunately, people who worry about their jobs and those who experience job loss tend to have poorer mental health as dis­cussed in Chapters 3 and 5 (McKee-Ryan, Song, Wanberg, & Kinicki, 2005; Price et al., 2002; Roskies & Louis-Guerin, 1990). For example, anxiety about one’s job may result in negative attitudes about one’s

470 CHAPTER 12 employer or even work in general, which in turn may diminish the desire to be successful. Whether there is any actual basis for people’s feelings of job insecurity may not matter; what people think is true about their work situation is sometimes more important than what is actually the case. If people believe that they are at risk of losing their jobs, their mental health and behavior are often affected negatively even when the actual risk of los­ing their jobs is very low (Roskies & Louis-Guerin, 1990). These effects do vary with age. For example, whereas some middle-aged men are more suscep­tible to negative effects of losing one’s job, others do not always report negative outcomes (Leana & Feldman, 1992). Some may have been planning to retire in the near future and see this as an opportu­nity to do so, others are hired back as consultants, and still others use their situation to try doing something new. Finally, downsizing in a company creates insecurity and this greatly damages the organizational trust and morale of employees aged 45 and older (Armstrong-Stassen, 2001).

What happens to the mental health of people who remain unemployed for relatively long periods of time? Wanberg (1995) assessed 129 people over a period of 9 months following the loss of a job. Only those people who were satisfied with their new jobs showed significant improvements in mental health; people who were unhappy in their new jobs and people who were still unemployed showed no change. Furthermore, husbands’ job loss can have a negative effect on wives’ mental health (Siegel et al., 2003).

People who are unemployed show considerable variability. For example, Wanberg and Marchese (1994) showed that four clusters of unemployed people could be identified, varying along the dimen­sions of financial concerns, employment commit­ment, job-seeking confidence level, degree of time structure, and adaptation to unemployment. These clusters can be identified as follows: confident, but concerned about getting another job; distressed about being unemployed; unconcerned and indif­ferent about being unemployed; and optimistic about the future and coping with unemployment. The differing characteristics of these clusters mean that interventions with unemployed individuals must take these differences into account.

The effects of losing one’s job emphasize the cen­tral role that occupations play in forming a sense of identity in adulthood. How one perceives the loss of a job plays a major role in determining what the long-term effects will be.

Concept Checks

1. What are the major factors that predict occupational transition?

2. What is career plateauing? How can it be avoided?

3. What effects do people experience when they lose their jobs?