Addressing Job Loss Issues in Older Adults

Cemetary with flowering trees

Older adults over 60 years of age face many loss and transition issues such as loss of  job, home, independence, health, spouse, friends, security, among others.  Dirkx, Gilley and Gilley (2004) indicated “change appears to be the one reliable constant in life” (p. 35).  Developmentally, however, adults over 60 are more set in their ways and probably have established patterns in career, activities, life, and security.  When changes such as loss of a job, home, independence, health, or security occur the transition for older adults is more difficult than for those who are younger.  In addition, present economic difficulties have forced greater changes than may have been expected for older adults.  The economic stresses have had far-reaching implications in unemployment, older children moving back home to survive, older adults bearing the burden of family survival, and possibly taking care of aging parents as well.

Adapting to Change

 Davis and Roth (2011), in a presentation at the American Counseling Association Annual Conference, proposed a “generative plan” for aging boomers and suggested a new view of ageism for this population.  Dirkx, Gilley and Gilley (2004) proposed “learning and change in [continuing professional education] CPE be approached as a matter of heart” (p. 36).  Dirkx et al. (2004) continued in discussing the concept of lifelong learning and most occupations now requiring continued learning as a critical component of employment.  Adults over 60 may find learning at this stage in their lives more difficult and challenging; however, if they are to remain vital and employed they really do not have a choice if they are to survive and thrive in the workplace.

Lewin (1951) (cited in Dirkx, Gilley, & Gilley, 2004) proposed a model of change for organizations that included:  unfreezing; movement; and refreezing.  This change model examines employees’ assumptions and expectations and evaluates readiness for change followed by implementation of change in which barriers to change are discovered and finally solidifying the implemented change.  With older adults’ changes and processing losses, the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) model is preferred as a basis for maintaining dignity in individuals and organizations.  Lewis (2009) indicated a shift from representing and counseling victims to advocating and fighting for our clients in whatever context advocacy is required.  In working with older adults and grief issues, identifying new directions and relationships with themselves as well as the new context in which they live are vital components of advocating for and creating change.

Job Loss as Crisis

James (2008) indicated six definitions of crisis:  (1) an obstacle to important life goals; (2) impediment of life goals that are unable to be overcome; (3) no response is available; (4) personal difficulty or immobilization (5) a state of disorganization; and (6) normal coping mechanisms are disabled.  Crisis like an accident is an unplanned event(s) and disturbs our comfort zone and without resources or coping mechanisms can cause “affective, behavioral, and cognitive malfunction” (p. 3).  In addition, Ivey and Collins (2003) stated “If social conditions of societal underemployment and unemployment, unfair distribution of income, and oppression continue, counselors and psychologists will continue to work with victims of ‘the system’” (p. 291).

The American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics (2005) states in Section A.6.a. and b. “When appropriate, counselors advocate at individual, group, institutional, and societal levels to examine potential barriers and obstacles that inhibit access and/or the growth and development of clients . . . Counselors obtain client consent prior to engaging in advocacy efforts on behalf of an identifiable client to improve the provision of services and to work toward removal of systemic barriers or obstacles that inhibit client access, growth, and development” (p. 5).  A counselor may be called on to refer (or directly work with) a client’s ability to make transitions in the loss of a job, fighting unemployment, getting food stamps, addressing the grief issues associated with such changes, and other advocacies.


I am able to comment directly on individual crisis and job loss.  The experiences of loss over the last year have also been cumulative:  loss of home, moving, loss of boss of 9 ½ years and, as a result, loss of my job of almost 10 years.  I would maintain that losing a job in a well-established career creates a real disturbance in a person’s comfort zone, identity and self-esteem, and is a real crisis.  While dealing with the loss and grieving, the path to obtaining new employment can be very difficult and causes a great deal of self questioning and living through rejection over and over until an offer is received.

Integrating job loss and re-employment, like grieving, is a long term process.  Surviving and thriving necessitates grief work and professional help may also be necessary.  However, in job loss, like any grief journey, there is growth and new found strength.


American Counseling Association. (2005). Code of ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved

            December 20, 2009 from

Davis, H., & Roth, N. (2011). Effective counseling with aging boomers. American Counseling

            Association Annual Conference, March 2011. New Orleans, LA.

Dirkx, J. M., Gilley, J. W., & Gilley, A. M. (2004). Change theory in CPE and HRD: Toward a

            holistic view of learning and change in work. Advances in Developing Human Resources,

            6(1), 35–51.

Ivey, A. E., & Collins, N. M. (2003). Social justice: A long-term challenge for counseling psychology. The Counseling Psychologist, 31(3), 290–298.
James, R. K. (2008). Crisis intervention strategies (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2009). Social change, leadership, and advocacy

            for counseling professionals. Baltimore, MD: Author.

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