Hitting rock bottom after job loss can be beneficial, study shows

February 20, 2018

We've all heard it said, "When you hit rock bottom, there's nowhere to go but up." This can prove especially true in business, where bottoming out as a result of job loss can be necessary before finding the radical solution that will lead to a new work identity, according to new research from the University of Notre Dame.

"Hitting Rock Bottom After Job Loss: Bouncing Back to Create a New Positive Work Identity," was published this month in Academy of Management Review by lead author Dean Shepherd, the Siegfried Professor of Entrepreneurship in Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, and Trenton Williams of Indiana University.

"On the way down, we frantically do all sorts of things to try and repair the situation, and suffer as they fail," Shepherd says. "Bottoming out frees us from the misconception that the problems can be fixed, and in the process, frees us from other constraints and negative emotions and provides the conditions necessary to find a viable solution."

Individuals who eventually hit rock bottom come to realize their identity has been lost, and that realization can lead to one of two paths: toward recovery or toward dysfunction.

"Using 'identity play' provides a safe environment to escape the situation and try new things, discarding bad ideas or finding and refining a new identity and returning stronger than before."

Play provides an opportunity to both withdraw from the mental anguish and to be creative in generating alternative new work identities and then trying them out to see how they feel without having to commit to them, which can be fun.

Once the individual finds a potential identity that feels right, they then begin to refine the job to make sure it's a good fit for both their needs and the reality of the situation. Without hitting rock bottom, the individual would not have been freed from the past to enable them to creatively explore different alternatives for the future.

"A failed corporate executive might consider a variety of other potential roles," Shepherd says, "For example, sitting on the board of a nonprofit organization that is desperate for experienced managerial guidance, exploring government positions or running for office, working with startups, and so forth. Similarly, a failed entrepreneur might explore how skills learned in starting a business could be applied in a corporate setting, take standardized exams to be considered for law school or engage in other low risk exploration activities. In these cases, hitting rock bottom opens up myriad new opportunities."

Former NFL players Jermichael Finley, Mike Utley and Tony Boselli all suffered career ending injuries and have refocused on other business ventures. Finley, in his 20s suffered a spinal cord injury while playing as a tight end for the Green Bay Packers. He is now coaching and invested in a gym. Utley played guard for the Detroit Lions when a game injury left him paralyzed. He started the Mike Utley Foundation. Boselli was a defensive tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars who retired early due to a nagging shoulder injury. He's now 45 and admits he still suffers from an "identity crisis" but continues working with the Jaguars on their Sunday radio show as well as other radio shows including Westwood One. He also coaches high school football and started a small healthcare company.

The less desirable path involves using fantasy as a means of escape and can include alcohol and drug use.

Along this less desirable path, "people will oscillate between no emotion and severe negative emotion and make no progress toward building a new identity, which can eventually lead to even worse outcomes like suicide," Shepherd says.

Recent studies have explored the impact of career-ending injuries for musicians and soldiers--injuries that generated intense negative emotions as they approached rock bottom. In both studies, some of these individuals were fixated on the loss of a former identity, paralyzed by the realization that they could no longer perform or continue in an established role. Some sought escape through cognitive deconstruction, including the use of drugs.

"A failed executive might resort to a numb state that involves abusing alcohol, engaging in menial tasks at home or becoming a couch potato," Shepherd says. "However, when friends offer job suggestions or ask why the executive has yet to land a new position, it could launch the individual from the numb state into extreme negative emotions leading to destructive behavior."

A deeper understanding of why some recover and others languish provides an opportunity to develop interventions that facilitate recovery from work identity loss.

Shepherd hopes the research helps people realize that hitting rock bottom can be an opportunity to let go of a broken and unrepairable life and begin anew to develop a new life, as well as avoid the negative path of fantasy that obstructs recovery.

A research leader in the field of entrepreneurship, Shepherd specializes in entrepreneurial cognitions, new venture strategy, opportunity recognition and learning from failure.
-end-


University of Notre Dame

Related Negative Emotions Articles from Brightsurf:

Why are memories attached to emotions so strong?
Multiple neurons in the brain must fire in synchrony to create persistent memories tied to intense emotions, new research from Columbia neuroscientists has found.

The relationship between looking/listening and human emotions
Toyohashi University of Technology has indicated that the relationship between attentional states in response to pictures and sounds and the emotions elicited by them may be different in visual perception and auditory perception.

Negative emotions cause stronger appetite responses in emotional eaters
A recent study at the University of Salzburg found that emotional eaters -- people who use food to regulate negative emotions -- had a stronger appetite response and found food to be more pleasant when experiencing negative emotions compared to neutral emotions.

Multitasking in the workplace can lead to negative emotions
From writing papers to answering emails, it's common for office workers to juggle multiple tasks at once.

Study highlights new strategies for helping children process negative emotions
A recent study of indigenous people in southern Chile challenges Western assumptions about children's emotional capabilities and highlights the value of spending time outdoors to help children regulate their emotions.

The 'place' of emotions
The entire set of our emotions is mapped in a small region of the brain, a 3 centimeters area of the cortex, according to a study conducted at the IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, Italy.

Students do better in school when they can understand, manage emotions
Students who are better able to understand and manage their emotions effectively, a skill known as emotional intelligence, do better at school than their less skilled peers, as measured by grades and standardized test scores, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Teens who can describe negative emotions can stave off depression
Teenagers who can describe their negative emotions in precise and nuanced ways are better protected against depression than their peers who can't.

How people want to feel determines whether others can influence their emotions
New Stanford research on emotions shows that people's motivations are a driving factor behind how much they allow others to influence their feelings, such as anger.

Emotions from touch
Touching different types of surfaces may incur certain emotions. This was the conclusion made by the psychologists from the Higher School of Economics in a recent empirical study.

Read More: Negative Emotions News and Negative Emotions Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.