Emotional Stages of a Job Loss
Suffering the loss of a job can be an emotionally wrenching experience.
By Don Straits
You’ve known for months that it has been coming, but you cling to the hope that it won’t happen to you. After all, you have been with the company for many years. You have produced great results. The company can’t survive without you.
But the economy is suffering from one of the worst recessions in years. Your company has not been doing well. You have watched others around you lose their jobs. But you tell yourself they won’t let you go. They need you.
You, of course, know you are in denial. Although you haven’t lost your job yet, it is the first stage of having to start over; of having to go through the agonizing process of finding a new job. The questions pound through your head:
“How long will it take? … Will I have to move? … Do I have enough resources to survive a long job search? … Will I have to take a cut in pay? … Will I like my new job?”
Suffering the loss of a job can be an emotionally wrenching experience. Regardless of the reason for the job loss, it is usually difficult to understand. Extensive research has demonstrated a consistent pattern that is exhibited in the following diagram:
Emotional Stages of a Job Loss
Let’s briefly take a look at each stage:
You want to believe that it won’t happen to you. But too often you are fooling yourself. It is the wise person who recognizes what is coming and begins the process of seeking a new opportunity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure for all workers is 4.1 years. Meanwhile, career experts agree that tenure for senior-level executives is considerably less on average. You should always position yourself for new opportunities.
When the day comes and you receive your discharge, the first reaction is to think, “I can’t believe it. They have made a mistake. They will call me back.” But in your heart, you really know they won’t call you back. This leads you into the next stage.
3. Outward Anger.
The anger may take many different forms. It may be directed toward your boss (“How stupid can she possibly be?”) or to the company, the economy or any other convenient outlet for your anger. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is directed toward family members and friends, resulting in high stress and tension for everyone. At this point, you should seek out support. Surround yourself with family and friends who understand your challenge. Perhaps seek professional counseling or guidance from your minister. There are also many community job search support groups available. Seek them out and participate. As your outward anger subsides, you start to move into the next stage.
4. Inward Self-Criticism.
This is the most difficult stage. You may begin to blame yourself for what happened (“What did I do wrong?” “How did I fail?” or “I must not be any good”). Typically, this is when your self-worth and self-confidence begin to wane. When you start to question yourself, you reach the onset of stage five.
All of a sudden you find every excuse to avoid contact with the external world. You experience periods of depression. You stop your usual social activities. Your physical activity declines. You start to gain weight. Ugh. It is at this point that your inner strength and support systems are most important. It is imperative that you move through this stage quickly. Get up. Get out. Get moving. The more active you become, the more quickly you move through stage five. You begin to think through what has happened and stage six begins to unfold.
Being depressed is no fun and that extra ten pounds doesn’t look good either. It is time to do something about it. You begin to take stock of your life and career abilities and ask yourself, “What should I do now?” “Where do my talents best fit?” and “How do I conduct my search?” Now, instead of looking back, you start to look forward and move into the final stage. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and you begin to see it.
“Hey, it’s not my fault. My company fell on hard times. I am a great person with exceptional talent, so when I land my new job, my new employer is going to get one dynamic, motivated employee. I’m excited. This is a great opportunity for new experiences, new friends, and a whole new positive outlook on life.” You have made it. You have survived the loss of your job. You are now ready to move on to a new opportunity.
By recognizing the different stages, you are able to move through them quickly, rather than languish in them for weeks. Yes, you still face the arduous task of conducting a tough job search with all its inherent frustrations. Be creative in your search. Seek out job search advice and help from friends and work colleagues. Network like crazy. Practice the “Three Foot Rule”: whenever you get within three feet of someone, engage them in a conversation and find a way to help each other. There are tons of resources on the Web and in your community to assist you. Through persistence and hard work, you will land a great new job. When all is done, you will probably end up saying, “You know, losing that job was the best thing that ever happened. It was not easy, and the job search was tough, but I couldn’t be happier in my new opportunity.”
Don Straits, CEO and Dragon Slayer of Corporate Warriors, is recognized as a nationwide authority on contemporary job search strategies for senior-level executives. His organization provides world-class outplacement and individual job search marketing services. Corporate Warriors has earned industry acclaim for its high-impact multimedia resume portfolios. You are welcome to personally Contact Don , read his blog, and participate in his free career search webinars.