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Redundancy, Unemployment, Retirement: Is A Lower Status Job An Acceptable Next Step?

Updated on October 3, 2014

It’s going to be no surprise to anyone when I say that the economy isn’t what it was back in the boom times. The cost of living isn’t getting any cheaper, returns on investments are dropping and if you’ve lost your job or been made redundant, it seems like that replacement job is getting harder and harder to find. Even if you’re currently in work, but still looking, it seems that the old magic of employers preferring people who are already in work (and demonstrating employability) doesn’t even necessarily help anymore.

Are You Unemployed?

Does Job Loss Equal Loss Of Status?

So if you’re searching for that new job opportunity, and starting to get a little uneasy about how long it’s taking… is it affecting how fussy you are about potential jobs? What I mean to say is, we all have a particular notion of our status in this world and where we fit in in the overall pecking order. Even if we get surprised (and not in a good way) by a pink slip, it can be difficult to readjust our notion of ourselves far enough to apply for anything other than very similar roles to that which we’re used to, or even for differing roles with the same level of status. It’s interesting that a recent Guardian news story pointed out research showing that the middle classes were more likely to experience psychological problems as a result of job insecurity and the threat of unemployment than the working class in jobs with less kudos (and money).1 Is there a connection with the loss of a high-status job?

Is Any Job Good Enough?

But is a little inflexibility a bad thing or a good thing? You could argue it either way. Some say that the damage done to an individual’s c.v. by taking on positions unrepresentative of her abilities and experience outweighs any possible benefit in terms of income accrued and continued job market experience. Others dispute this, claiming that many employers respect an individual with the flexibility and determination to gain employment in an unfamiliar field, and the work ethic to carve out a living in an unpromising economy. They suggest that a big fat hole in your c.v will do you a lot more harm than a summer spent as a swimming pool attendant or care assistant. So who’s right?

Can You Get Back Into A Professional Job?

What constitutes a ‘lower-status’ job, anyway? It may depend on how finely you discriminate between fine gradations of job title. If it’s not your area of expertise, then ‘market researcher’, ‘marketing assistant’, ‘marketing officer’ and ‘junior marketing manager’ may all sound much of a muchness. On the other hand, anyone would be surprised to find a former company vice-president stacking shelves and manning the tills at your local DIY store!

Of course, snob value and the status of a job title aren’t the only things to consider when you’re proposing to take up a job offer that isn’t at the level you’re used to. Yes, it might be a bit embarrassing to tell Jim next door that your new career path involves queries about whether people would like some fries in addition to their order. But there are real consequences to consider in terms of finances: a low-level clerical post or a bit of bar work just isn’t going to be remunerated in the same way as a highly paid sales professional or investment banker. Can you actually afford to take on a lower-status job – especially if you have some kind of income insurance that covers your mortgage, etc.?

In the end your personal financial and social position has to determine whether it’s worth it – and necessary – to take on a job that isn’t quite in line with your expectations, either socially, professionally or financially. But it’s worth bearing in mind that, just because you take on a hotel maid position for a few months, it doesn’t necessarily lock you into a whole different future than the one you had envisaged for yourself. If you choose then you can view it as a purely financial interim measure – a stopgap that will put a few quid in the bank and keep you going, but something you can laugh off later as an interesting experiment. Maybe write an article about it – hey, it worked for Barbara Ehrenreich!


1. Campbell, D. 'Recession Causes Surge In Mental Health Problems.' The Guardian. 01/04/2010: Berliner.


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