Exploring the Process of Adjustment to Retrenchment: Putting Home in its Place

Author: Johannes (Hans) Gerardus Pieters

Pieters, Johannes (Hans) Gerardus, 2012 Exploring the Process of Adjustment to Retrenchment: Putting Home in its Place, Flinders University, School of the Environment

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'Home' has been defined as a place of belonging, community, domesticity and safety as well as being materially significant as a major household cost and or investment and may be experienced as a haven from work and or a source of ontological security in an uncertain world (Giddens, 1991; Saunders, 1990). The experience of ontological security through homeownership may be constrained in times of high interest rates (Colic-Peister and Johnston 2010). Proponents of the risk society thesis (Beck, 1992) which holds that the first modernity's concern with scarcity and class is being supplanted by the second modernity's concern with risk and individualisation, point to globalisation as the driver behind the changing nature of work and in particular behind job insecurity. Flexible accumulation and labour market flexibility is the new mantra. A 'job for life' once provided the orientation to and possibility of a sense of security within Fordism as did other institutions such as family, religion and 'home', in the latter case particularly through home ownership. When retrenchment arises decisions need to be made about career and finances and there may be positive and negative implications for current plans regarding housing and the meaning of home. What do you do when you don't belong at work anymore?. The labour market outcomes for individual workers following retrenchment have been the subject of considerable academic and policy research particularly by labour market analysts, psychologists concerned with the cognitive and affective dimensions of work and unemployment, by sociologists concerned with the role of work in sociality and geographers concerned with the spatial distribution of economic activity and employment. Media treatment of retrenchment invariably is couched in the language of 'moral panic' and casts retrenched workers, including those who volunteer for retrenchment packages, as being victims of uncaring companies and or governments. This form of media construction is often triggered when companies announce plant closures with little or no warning to the workers, the unions or the government. However very little research has been conducted which attempts to work across these disciplines by drawing attention to the interaction of processes of adjustment over time, within place and across labour markets and within the context of structures of subjectification and or resistance, mediated by house and home. How should we explain the housing decisions and attitudes of people during retrenchment given the plethora of theories regarding the role of home in the contemporary era and the variability in the individual circumstances of workers with respect to labour market success? This thesis contributes to a bridging of the adjustment to retrenchment and 'home' literatures through a longitudinal study of retrenchments within the automotive industry and asks how does home constrain and or enable the process of adjustment to retrenchment?. A mixed methods approach is used with an emphasis on the analysis of data on the subjective experience of adjustment in order to understand how meanings about home and work influence adjustment decision making. ata was analysed from an Australian Research Council (ARC) funded study on a sample of 372 workers retrenched following restructuring and plant closure at the Adelaide, Australia branch of a large multinational automotive industry company, announced in May 2004. This data comprised three telephone surveys at approximately one year apart, interspersed with two in depth interviews with a randomly selected subsample of 38 workers. Using thematic, content and case study analysis the thesis identified the mechanisms through which home enabled and constrained adjustment and through which workers maintained a strong sense of home. The research found that retrenchment packages were essential for workers to be able to plan a meaningful future, demonstrating the importance of the manifest benefits of work in assessing the psychological implications of job loss; nevertheless workers missed the social interaction with former workmates. Retrenchment packages were used to reduce or pay out the mortgage which has less to do with strengthening workers' homeowner identities than it did with establishing financial security and a secure base for the post retrenchment world. Less than 10 per cent of workers relocated during the study period. Place attachment by workers was informed by a commitment to the existing local relationships and educational development of their children, connections with friends and relatives and the environmental amenity. The thesis demonstrated how meanings of home can change for workers as a result of the retrenchment episode and how the sense of home anchors narratives of job loss and animates life biographies in the risk regime of employment

Keywords: home,retrenchment,layoffs,displacement,adjustment,automotive industry structural adjustment,latent and manifest benefits of work,risk society,plant closure,housing tenure,place,relocation,psychology of job loss

Subject: Sociology thesis, Geography thesis, Environmental Health thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2012
School: School of the Environment
Supervisor: Professor Andrew Beer; Dr Emma Baker