Forced job loss in mid-life is one of the trickiest transitions to navigate

Transitions and job change are common in late career. Around half the workforce over 50 change jobs, particularly women.

Transitions can be welcome or unwelcome, chosen or forced, a wrench or liberating, natural or difficult, expected or unexpected. Whether change is forced or unforced can make a huge difference.

Anyone who has lost a job against their wishes knows how profound the sense of loss can be. You don’t imagine it will be so deep or long-lasting before it happens, but you sure do afterwards. Your sense of who you are, your self-worth, is shaken and has to be rebuilt.

Research shows the psychological impact of job loss can be similar to the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, exploration, and acceptance – and support is even more important for a forced change.

Transitioning typically consists of three phases: endings, a neutral zone, and new beginnings.

The ending phase is where you say goodbye to things, let go of the comfort and safety of the past and your old ways. It begins with letting go and a sense of loss. Endings are important and if they are not properly acknowledged, they can keep you trapped, spiralling round and round.

The neutral zone phase is where you have to navigate the uncertainty between what was and the emergence of the new rules of the road. It’s a very uncomfortable time for people who are used to knowing the answers. A time of chaos and uncertainty, as well as possibility. 

The new beginnings phase is where you accept and operate effectively in the changed context. There is no going back. You can’t unknow what you now know. You can’t be who you were. You are changed.

It sounds simple, but a lot of people try to rush the phases, get stuck, or end up re-cycling round and round.

Some transitions are trickier to navigate than others – due to their nature, their timing or their context. In mid-life, it can get pretty complex with multiple transitions happening at the same time. Your physical self, your work self, and your family self can all be changing.

At 50, Lynne transitioned across all three. She was going through the menopause and didn’t recognise how her body behaved any more. She left full time employment to set up a portfolio business. Her children were flying the nest.

Tempting as it might be to try and deal with the transitions separately, the reality is they often interact and inform each other. It helps to take the time to think differently and holistically about yourself and your life – working with the complexity rather than fighting it.  

Not surprisingly, a forced job loss in mid-life can be one of the hardest to navigate.

Having the right support from reputable professionals can make all the difference – helping you deal with the shock and re-build your sense of control and choice. Research shows many people go on to find a job that was is more fulfilling than the one they had before, but it can take time and space to think differently.

If you are finding it difficult, you are not alone.


Bridges, W. (2004.) Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (2nd edn.), Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

McNair, S. Owen, L. Flynn, M. Humphrey, S. & Woodfield, S. (2004). Changing work in later life: a study of job transitions, Guildford: Centre for Research into the Older Worker.

Yates, J. (2014). The Career Coaching Handbook, Abingdon: Routledge. Eby and Buch (1998) in Yates, J. (2014). The Career Coaching Handbook, Abingdon: Routledge.

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