Theses Doctoral

Ways of Learning Through Experience, Navigation, and Impact: How the Fear of Job Loss Can Lead to a Changed Perspective

Walton, Jerrold Alan

The purpose of this exploratory study of adult learning was to investigate the lived experience of 15 employees who encountered a significant job loss event (an unplanned loss of employment with no immediate replacement of employment—coupled with an unintentional and tangibly significant reduction in income), and how the resultant fear(s) from that event affected their navigation through unemployment in order to become successfully reemployed.

This study used two theories in the field of adult learning—Transformative Learning (TL) and Learning From Experience (LFE)—with an aim of uncovering how the principles and methods of TL and LFE were relevant to the participants’ job loss episode and self-assessed, perceived workplace performance. TL offers adults a path for reframing a job loss episode. LFE can help advance an understanding of how the cumulative set of life events develops and shapes coping capacities (ways of learning) and skills relative to job loss episodes.

This study was conducted using qualitative research methods, predominately exploratory participant interviews. The participants were 15 U.S.-based employees: five Black males, nine White males, and one White female. The participants were largely but not exclusively middle management staff. Through a series of one-on-one interviews, the research process captured the participants’ perceptions and learnings with respect to how they experienced their job-dismissed event, navigated unemployment, and applied learnings from their job loss episode. In addition, given the availability of five Black participants, discussions related to how race permeated the study were pursued when surfaced.

Findings from the study indicated that participants experienced manifestations of fear from losing their job; used their intervening period of unemployment in a constructive, action-based manner; and saw themselves differently as a result of their job loss event.

Several conclusions were derived from the study: (a) the job dismissal event is unlike onboarding—employees generally feel kicked out without care or warning;
(b) navigation through unemployment requires self-awareness, self-determination, and both social and financial support; and (c) the richness of experience from a job loss episode can offer improvements to perceived workplace performance.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Organization and Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Yorks, Lyle
Marsick, Victoria
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
February 22, 2021