Hitting rock bottom after job loss: Bouncing back to create a new positive work identity

Dean A. Shepherd, Trenton A. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Although people often value work identities, events sometimes threaten these identities, creating situations where individuals struggle to overcome the identity threat. Building on the theories of identity and escape from self, we develop a "rock bottom" model of generating a new positive work identity. Specifically, individuals who eventually hit rock bottom come to realize that the identity has been lost, which can lead to a path to recovery or to a path to dysfunction. The path to recovery involves escape through identity play and the oscillation between disciplined identity play and identity refinement/validation. The path to dysfunction involves escape though cognitive deconstruction. Regulatory focus is important in distinguishing between those who engage in identity play to generate possible new positive identities (i.e., promotion focus) and those who engage in cognitive dysfunction (i.e., prevention focus). A deeper understanding of why some recover and others languish provides an opportunity to develop interventions that facilitate recovery from work identity loss.
Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalAcademy of Management Review
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)28-49
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management


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