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The Economic Research Institute, Stockholm School of Economics SSE/EFI Working Paper Series in Business Administration

No 2009:5:
From employed to employable – exploring the outplacement program as a site for career and identity construction

Ilinca Benson ()

Abstract: A relatively new organisational form, of particular interest for how careers are organised and conceptualised, in the current labour market, is the so-called outplacement program. Outplacement programs are a form of compensation package offered to employees that are being laid off as a part of organizational downsizing. The purpose of such programs is to provide support in the transition to new employment. The means used are a combination of economic support and career coaching. Outplacement programs can be regarded as a kind of Expert Others that attempt to reorganise the part of the labour market where the job seekers dwell. The purpose of this paper is to explore how outplacement programs act as organisers of job transitions processes, and to generate ideas about how this may influence the perception and the practice of careers. The object of empirical study in this paper is an outplacement program, Alpha Future, which was created to host employees made redundant from a large Swedish state-owned organisation, Alpha. The empirical material consists of in-depth interviews with coaches from the outplacement program. The analysis indicates that during the period of the outplacement program identity work is the work, to a large extent. The program participant’s career is conceived of as a manifestation of the self and as a reflexive project for which the individual herself is responsible. Emphasis is placed on self-reflexive work (through coaching, tests, courses) and self-presentation work (writing your résumé and application letters, training for interviews). The program offers a ground for transitory identification as ”job-seeker”, thereby influencing the status passage entailed in being made redundant. Furthermore, the program provides a new normative category, which acts as a mould for the participants to conform to: the ”employable individual”. This category of identification is not tied to an organization, a position, or a profession. It is general, applicable to every one, and it is framed as the recipe for success in a labour market characterized by market rationalism. Employable individuals, in this language, adapt to a continuously changing labour market. They are prepared for a ”protean” career, where they repeatedly have to sell themselves on the market. The market is not only ”out there”; it also pervades the inside of organisations. Hence, the paper argues that outplacement programs function as important sites for socialisation into the current labour market.

Keywords: outplacement; transition; labour market; work life; organization; identity; employability; down sizing; career; (follow links to similar papers)

20 pages, August 11, 2009, Revised August 12, 2009

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