New research has uncovered a silver lining to the layoffs that have been a significant feature of the business landscape the past three years, finding that being retrenched can often be a catalyst for positive change and a search for greater authenticity.
Bond University researcher, Professor Amy Kenworthy, together with Professor Suzanne de Janasz of the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Switzerland, examined the impact being made redundant has on individuals.
"In this research, we were exploring whether, and in what ways, job loss might cause individuals to examine more closely who they are and how their definition of self fits with their current and future career choices," said Professor Kenworthy.
"We were interested in discovering how the jolt of losing a job influences individuals' authenticity."
Professors Kenworthy and de Janasz asked professionals who had recently lost their jobs how it had affected them and how they were approaching the search for new employment. Four key themes emerged: lifestyle quality; meaningful work; job security and happiness; and self-doubt and cynicism.
“It is normal and healthy to be confused, angry, frustrated, anxious and scared when experiencing job loss we saw these reactions in people, taken together they form a large part of the cynicism and self-doubt theme that emerged,” Kenworthy said. “However, our data are also suggesting that people not only experience these negative reactions to job loss but also a good deal of positive reactions as well, with the other three themes we identified all tied to a desire for increased authenticity.
"To be authentic is to be genuine and trustworthy... to have a firm sense of identity and integrity and to understand yourself enough to share your identity with others. To be authentic helps people to communicate effectively and to identify with others.
"However, for many people, authenticity with respect to the fit between their values, priorities, and genuineness to oneself and the reality of their professional lives gets lost over time. Individuals find themselves stuck in a professional situation that is neither ideal nor consistent with how they see themselves.”
Professor Kenworthy said that their data are suggesting the jolt of losing a job can put a sudden end to this state of inertia and encourage individuals to reflect introspectively about the degree to which they know and live by their values.
“We were genuinely surprised at the ‘glass half full’ attitude that our respondents shared with us with respect to their job loss. They were all engaged in a genuine search for authenticity and a renewed focus on finding a fit between their values and professional careers,” said Professor Kenworthy.
Amy Kenworthy is a Professor of Management at Bond University’s School of Business and Director of the Bond Centre for Applied Research in Learning, Engagement, Andragogy and Pedagogy (LEAP). Suzanne de Janasz is a Professor of Leadership and Organisation Development at IMD.