Life After Job Loss
Coping With the Emotional Turmoil
So, it finally happened. All of the headlines and statistics about the current economic crisis have become personal: you've been laid off.
Given the intensity of the stress you're likely to be experiencing right now, it helps to know what to expect in the weeks and months ahead. After all, the more you know, the better equipped you'll be to handle the ups and downs that you're likely to face.
The Five Stages of Loss
In a famous piece of research, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five different stages of grief that people go through when mourning the death of a loved one. Sure, losing a job, being made redundant, or being fired, may not be quite as upsetting as this, however it can be a profoundly unhappy and stressful experience, and it can help to think in terms of Kübler-Ross's stages. These are:
Not everyone experiences each stage the same way, or in the same time frame. You might skip a stage, or spend a long time in one stage and move quickly through the next one.
Also, your age and life situation might partly determine how long you spend in each stage, or whether you experience a certain stage at all. A younger worker with no mortgage payments and no children may experience denial and self-criticism, but then skip directly to acceptance. Workers who have more responsibilities might take longer to move to the acceptance stage, simply because more stress is involved.
Let's look at the stages in more detail, and think about what you can do to cope with each one.
Stage One: Denial
If you're thinking things like "I can't believe I've lost my job" or you think that this is all a silly administrative mistake that can be fixed, then you're in Stage One.
To cope with denial, you have to open your mind to the fact that bad, and even unjust or wrong things do happen, and that you have to live with them.
Don't pretend that you're just on an unexpected vacation or – worse – put your business suit on and catch the train as usual in the morning, but spend your day in a library or coffee shop with a newspaper. This is only prolonging the process of getting over what has happened.
Stage Two: Anger
Once you're past the initial shock of losing your job, you might begin to feel very angry – angry at yourself, your boss, your company, or the economy in general. After all, if you've worked hard and "given your all", surely you deserve better than this?
You might become angry at family and friends as well.
This can be one of the most difficult stages, especially for the people around you. If your anger causes you to treat others badly, use anger management techniques, or seek counseling. Hurting the people you love will push them away, and make you feel worse.
To cope, try to express your emotions in a healthy way. This doesn't mean that you should start kicking and screaming. Talk with family and friends, or even a counselor. This may give you the outlet you need to move past your feelings of anger.
Stage Three: Bargaining
After your anger has burned itself out, you might start bargaining with yourself or your organization in the hope that your job loss is somehow reversible.
In Kübler-Ross's original model, this reflected a form of subconscious bargaining with a higher power: "I just want to live to see my daughter married…"
In the case of job loss, this is likely to be more practical. For instance, you might go back to your boss and offer to work for less money, or reduced benefits. You might offer to work part-time, or train any new hires that come through the door.
Bargaining is almost always futile. Picture it like trying to board a ship that's setting sail; you've got one foot on the ship and one foot on the dock. Straddling them both will get you nothing but a miserable drop into the ocean.
To cope with this stage, be aware of what you're doing. Put your energy into moving forward.
Stage Four: Depression
As the old cliché says, "Whenever one door closes, another one opens somewhere." But, as someone else also said, "It's the hallway in between those doors that's torture."
Once you realize that your anger and bargaining tactics aren't working to get your job back, you might slip into a state of depression.
Depression is the beginning stage of acceptance. You're grieving for your lost job, and that's an important step because it shows your finally coming to terms with what happened.
So what can you do to cope? Accept that losing your job wasn't your fault. Or, if it was your fault, learn from the experience, forgive yourself, and move on. You can call it fate or destiny, but consider that something better might be out there waiting for you. You just have to be willing to find it!
Start doing something productive. Remember, your job right now is to find another job.
This is also a great time to volunteer for an organization that you care about. Helping others can be very healing, and it could give you a sense of control in your life.
If you're experiencing significant or persistent unhappiness at this or any other stage, seek the advice of an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Depression is something that can be dealt with quickly and effectively if detected, but is something that can be painful and lingering if left untreated.
Stage Five: Acceptance
You've finally realized the truth: the layoff wasn't your fault, or if it was your fault, you've learned from it. You're a talented, incredible, exciting person with a lot to offer in your next job.
And the best news? You've faced the difficulties of losing a job, and you're stronger because of it.
There's no set time limit for any of these stages. Again, you might skip some stages, or go through all five: everyone is different.
If you feel like you're stuck in one particular stage and can't move past it, then seek help so you can move forward.
Now that you no longer have a boss to manage your performance, give yourself a performance appraisal at regular intervals. Assess your work skills and also how you're doing at looking for another job.
Losing a job can be emotionally upsetting and overwhelming. Many experts agree that people go through five stages of loss or grief, similar to what we experience at the death of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Give yourself time to work through each stage. Talk about your emotions, do something productive, and keep moving forward.