Whether you’ve been laid off or you’re still employed, at some point in your career, you may ask yourself, “why can’t I get over this?” Changes at work usually bring on these feelings and most people don’t know what to do with themselves. They have no idea they’re grieving the former and resisting the latter. In this post, I’ll be speaking mostly to the people that have been laid off. However, this information is applicable to the employed contingent as well. If you’re feeling burnt out, depressed, suffering from anxiety or like you’re just not getting anywhere in your job, let me know if you feel like any of this applies to you too?
Grieving Your Loss Of Identity/Income/etc.
When people talk about grief and mourning, it’s usually due to the loss of a loved one or a revered relationship. It’s rarely associated with the loss of one’s job because…it’s just a job. Some people expect you to get over it because:
- There is more to life than work, and
- They fully expect you to land on your feet (because you always do).
Mind you, both of those statements are true, but after you lose your job, getting over it usually means you have A LOT of work to do. (Yes, you’ll be working alright.)
Welcome to the Most Important Job You’ll Ever Have!
Working your way through the five stages of grief* is no easy feat and you may not even know you’re doing it. We’ll cover the stages in no particular order and people (myself included) reportedly jump from stage to stage. Use this information to help you understand what’s going on in your head. It’s knowledge and awareness to help you press on!
Shock & Denial
This is probably the easiest stage as it delays the inevitable; however, it could be the shortest (if it happens at all!) Heck, you may even have your (former) co-workers living in denial with you especially if none of you saw this coming. When reality sets in (and hopefully you let it rear its head), the fact is, no one is irreplaceable and it can happen at any time. The decision is final and your position no longer exists. Recognize when you’re in denial and then work your way forward.
Tip: When you’re in shock and/or denial, write down “why?” What can they not possibly do without you? Why are YOU the only answer to these problems? This may sound like it’s keeping you in denial but you can use these thoughts to figure out what you will want to focus on moving forward. (These will likely be your strengths or a soft skill you excel in. Don’t forget them!)
Anger & Frustration
Many immediately enter this stage upon hearing the news their jobs no longer exist. It’s actually the flip side of denial as you’re actively addressing the issue and it makes you mad! Good for you. Get mad so you can get it out of your system and move on! (Caveat: I’m not advocating taking your anger out on anyone or anything. I’m talking about acknowledging the fact you’re angry.) There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s actually very normal…regardless of how even keeled you appear on the outside.
Tip: Write down why you’re mad and either shred it afterwards or keep it in a safe, private place. I would encourage you to keep it so you can reference it later. What’s most important is you do it. Also, I hate to break it to you, but you may be back in the anger/frustration phase as you go through your job search. Keeping track of what’s frustrating you will help you identify patterns and things you may want to avoid – or improve on – moving forward. (Shocking, I know.)
Traditionally, this is thought of as the time to negotiate your departure or to ask your manager to reconsider. Rarely does this turn things around but it’s natural to want to try. Believe it or not, I’ve heard stories of people being told how their managers bargained on their behalf before final decisions were made. (It actually happened to me once!) While that’s nice to hear, the reality is the job is gone.
To be honest, I had a hard time wrapping my head around this stage but I realized I did a bit of bargaining with myself after my first layoff. Yes, another form of bargaining has to do with yourself. I know, that sounds weird, but as you embark on your job search, you’ll likely have many parameters on what you want/need to do next. Whether you know it or not (I didn’t), you’re bargaining with yourself. That’s good. Keep at it! I truly hope the better bargainer leads to a happier existence at the end of all this!
Tip: Write down what you’re willing to compromise on in your next role. Is it title, money, industry? I’m not saying you will have to compromise but actively writing down what you want (and why) will help crystalize what’s important to you at this time. (Are you sensing a theme to these tips yet…?! I used to write a lot when I was younger, then work happened. Resisting the act of writing can be a form of denial so take that as you wish!) 😉
Depression & Anxiety
I believe everyone suffers from some form of depression and/or anxiety (at some point in their lives), especially when it comes to work. It doesn’t matter if you were laid off, fired, quit or if you’re still working. Our jobs are intrinsically tied to our sense of self, purpose and general well being (for better or worse). When something is out of whack with your work life, you may find yourself feeling depressed, suffering from anxiety or battling stress. Again, this is very normal, and in all honesty can be the hardest stage to overcome.
Tip: Write about what makes you happy in general (hopefully it’s not work). If you’re like most people (myself included) you probably have too much of your identity wrapped up in your job. If you can identify what truly makes you happy (and why), try to incorporate some of that happiness into every day. It’s also important to keep yourself OUT of isolation as much as you can. If you stay active in mind and body, that should help keep you moving forward…literally and figuratively!
Important: If you suffer from clinical depression, please seek professional help. Visit this link (https://adaa.org/finding-help/treatment/low-cost-treatment#) for information on how to seek treatment even if you don’t have insurance or resources to cover it at this time.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, acceptance doesn’t mean you’re back on your feet. It merely means you’ve come to a point where you realize you can’t change anything from the past. You’re ready to move forward. Your normal as you knew it is gone and you’re working on becoming more comfortable with your ‘new normal’.
If you look around and feel like others jump right to acceptance, don’t be fooled by their facades. I bet if you were to have an honest conversation with him/her, you would hear about how they whizzed through these different stages without even knowing it. (By the way, do yourself a favor and stop comparing yourself to others, especially at this point in your career. You need to focus on you, ‘nuff said.)
As I mentioned near the beginning, some people don’t go through all the stages and some people jump from stage to stage and back again. We all go through this in our own time. If you’re on the hunt for a new job, you’ll likely revisit some or all of these stages. (Sorry, being honest here!) This is where your writings will come in handy. Review your thoughts & feelings as you went through this process and use that information to inform your next steps.
You’re resilience is being tested for one reason or another. The bad news is, building resilience is not necessarily easy (and it’s definitely not ‘fun’). It takes work. The good news is, you’ll come out on the other end having mended these tears and ready to get back on your feet. Yes, you’ll be stronger and more resilient. Now that doesn’t suck!
Tell Us What You Think?
Are you grieving the loss of your job? What stages have you been in? Do you have any other tips or advice for others going through any of these stages? This post is based on my perspective and many discussions I’ve had with others. Everyone has different experiences and it would be helpful to hear about yours’ in the comments below.
*Based on the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief.