The Use of Narratives to Contextualize the Experiences and Needs of Unemployed, Underemployed, and Displaced Workers

By Russell, Jessica C. | Journal of Employment Counseling, June 2011 | Go to article overview

The Use of Narratives to Contextualize the Experiences and Needs of Unemployed, Underemployed, and Displaced Workers


Russell, Jessica C., Journal of Employment Counseling


The author examined the role of narratives used by unemployed, underemployed, and displaced workers seeking job training assistance through a government-funded One-Stop Career Center. Interviews with employees of a One-Stop Career Center provided insight on client rate of disclosure of personal narratives and how client narratives are used to facilitate the job search process. Specifically, data from the interviews suggest that narratives give career center employees insight on job seekers' background, barriers, and reemployment mind-set. Furthermore, the act of listening was seen as legitimizing job seekers' experiences. Implications of the findings are discussed.

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A man blurts out as he enters the One-Stop Career Center, "I had been with the same company for over 15 years! I had an accident a few years back, and I was forced to go on disability. Now I am off and there are no employers willing to hire me." This experience represents what many are going through given the effects of economic globalization, outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries, and increased technological innovation. These changes have led to downsizing and corporate restructuring that have altered occupational opportunities and existing jobs (Drennan, 1988; Patton & McMahon, 2006; Rahim, 2001; Sales, 1995). The shift from a manufacturing economy to one that is based on information and services has left many adult workers unemployed and without skills to reenter today's job market (Davies, 1996). Additionally, December 2007 marked the beginning of a recession. At that time, the number of unemployed persons in the United States was 7.7 million and the unemployment rate was 5%. Three years later, the number of unemployed persons had risen to 14.8 million and the national unemployment rate stood at 9.8% (Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2010).

The loss of a job can threaten both economic and psychological well-being (Kanfer, Wanberg, & Kantrowitz, 2001; Mallinckrodt & Fretz, 1988; McKee-Ryan, Song, Wanberg, & Kinicki, 2005; Paul & Moser, 2009). This brings to the surface issues of shame, guilt, decreased esteem, and overall negative effects on one's physical and mental health, including feelings of fear, anger, anxiety, and depression (Broman, Hamilton, & Hoffman, 2001; Cottle, 2001; Garrett-Peters, 2005). These outcomes are in part attributed to the fact that North American culture places great importance on the self as defined by occupation (Fryers, 2006). Thus, employment is a principal source of identity, providing not only income, but also social legitimacy (Jung & Hecht, 2004).

Employment support networks assist job seekers in restoring their motivation to seek a new job before they actually begin looking for employment. Social support has been reported to be therapeutic for and liberating from feelings of isolation; it also helps unemployed individuals combat feelings of inadequacy (for meta-analytic reviews see Hanisch, 1999; McKee-Ryan et al., 2005; Paul & Moser, 2009). Employment support groups assist individuals in raising their self-esteem and efficacy, both of which are essential traits for a job search (Drennan, 1988; Vinokur & van Ryn, 1993). Additionally, employment support networks facilitate individuals in moving beyond coping and toward the practice of career development techniques through networking and support that can help share information about job leads (Davies, 1996; Lambert, Eby, & Reeves, 2006; Wanberg, Watt, & Rumsey, 1996).

In an effort to address job seekers' needs, the United States federal and state governments implemented an initiative to establish One-Stop centers (Dykman, 1995; Mariani, 1997; Sampson & Reardon, 1998) that consolidated resources and services for job seekers at one location (Career One Stop, 2010). Among these One-Stop Career Centers, there is a constant struggle to balance organizational resources against providing personalized services through human interaction (Mariani, 1997; Sampson & Reardon, 1998). …

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