Academic journal article Social Work

Social Timing, Life Continuity, and Life Coherence: Implications for Vocational Change

Academic journal article Social Work

Social Timing, Life Continuity, and Life Coherence: Implications for Vocational Change

Article excerpt

Societal interest in keeping older workers in the workplace longer has been stimulated by the projected strain on the social security system caused by a larger and longer-living population of elderly people supported by fewer workers (Graebner, 1980; Mor-Barak & Tynan, 1993; Rappaport & Schieber, 1993; Rix, 1991). The current issue of job displacement of older workers, however, is even more pressing for occupational social work as a significant arena for the delivery of preventive and intervention services to workers (Johnson, 1990). Job displacement, which resulted in the unemployment of 4.3 million people from 1985 through 1989 (Herz, 1991), has a particularly devastating effect on the disenfranchised populations typically served by social work.

Research suggests that people most vulnerable to displacement are older workers, people with limited skills, people of color, and women (Bowman & Couchman, 1992). Economic realities such as lack of sufficient income and loss of health benefits require lower-income older adults to continue their involvement in the work force (Minnesota Department of Jobs and Training, 1989; Mor-Barak & Tynan, 1993). Loss of health insurance is particularly damaging for workers with illnesses or disabilities or with family members with medical problems (Wagner, 1991).

In response to the job displacement problem, there has been a growing interest in linking social work interventions with plant closings and unemployment (Wagner, 1991). Social workers trained in both occupational social work and gerontology are in a strong position to assist employment-seeking older workers who are discouraged by the job-seeking process (Mor-Barak & Tynan, 1993). In addition, cooperative ventures between social work and vocational rehabilitation professionals have resulted in positive client outcomes as well as valuable cross-training for both disciplines (Bender & Wiley, 1982).

Aside from economic realities, many older adults are interested in continuing their productive involvement in the workplace (Kelly, 1990; Mor-Barak & Tynan, 1993). Employment goes beyond the issue of survival: It provides social status, social interaction, structure for everyday living, and a vehicle for productivity (Barrow, 1992). The literature on productivity of older workers is consistent in reporting little relationship between normal aging changes and work performance (Dunn, 1981; Fyock, 1990; Kart, 1994). In fact, older workers tend to have lower absenteeism, accident, and turnover rates as well as a higher commitment to an organization than younger workers (Kart, 1994). In spite of older workers' motivation and productivity, the outlook for the older worker seeking new jobs is bleak, involving a longer job search with the likelihood of lower earnings in the service sector after re-employment (Bowman & Couchman, 1992; Love & Torrence, 1989; Wagner, 1991).

Older Workers Undergoing Forced Vocational Change

Reluctance on the part of older workers to accept occupational change after involuntary job loss has been noted (Bowman & Couchman, 1992; Dunn, 1981; Minnesota Department of Jobs and Training, 1989; Sobel, 1966). An underlying assumption of this article is that it is the quality of the change, not change itself, that older workers are reluctant to undergo. After all, older workers often are more accustomed to change than younger workers, because they have already lived through a wide variety of changes in their lives (Dychtwald, 1990).

With the recognition that social work efforts to address discriminatory and other environmental factors are critical, this article discusses an additional dimension in assisting workers 45 years and older whose long-term employment has been disrupted because of layoffs, termination, or coerced resignation. This approach seeks to ease the psychosocial difficulties of vocational change and increase the job satisfaction of older workers through ensuring that a new job is as consistent as possible with their beliefs about appropriate social timing of vocational events, career continuity, and their life stories as they incorporate work. …

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