Every day, I see clients in my office for Career Counseling. Sometimes they have left jobs voluntarily, sometimes they have been laid off, other times they have been fired. All are in need of support and Career Guidance.
One example, I recall, occurred, the week before Christmas 2008. Two of our Business students were in at our Career Center, waiting room for Career Advising. Both had their career aspirations intricately linked to the same employer. These students didn't know each, other, but I was soon to find out the relation between them.
The first client, who was in the final year of his MBA, came into my office and proceeded to close my door. He said, “I have something very serious to tell you.” The day before, when he arrived in his office, he found a “Pink Slip” and termination notice on his desk. No explanation, no conversation, just a notice that his services were not longer needed and his contract would not be renewed. He had worked as a contract consultant and project manager for this employer, for 10 years. When he followed up with Human Resources, he was told that the company was losing money, was shedding jobs & initiated a hiring freeze. Though he was upset, he accepted this explanation.
After our session was over, I ushered in my next client. This client was in the 3rd year of his Bachelors’ Degree in Business. He left my office door open, so all in the waiting room could hear. He was elated to tell me he had just been hired & he showed me his “job offer letter,” for January 1, 2009. The offer was for a job … with the same employer, mentioned who laid off my previous student. What we were to learn that week, is that for the cost of one ‘almost' MBA, this employer hired 3 ‘partial’ Bachelors degree students.
The pace of this economic, “job shedding” has greatly accelerated in the past 6 months. I have observed firsthand, that the emotional patterns due to job loss are similar to the emotional patterns of those who have lost a loved one. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first documented the stages of Grief and Loss in her groundbreaking book in 1969 - "On Death and Dying." The Kubler-Ross model, is used worldwide to describe the stages of loss. Losing a job is a sort of death, since it entails a loss of routine, a loss of a role identity, a loss of prestige and entails facing an uncertain future. Each time we transition between jobs, voluntarily or involuntarily we experience this.
In society, we provide a lot of emotional support for those who have lost a loved one. However, when someone loses a job, we often hurry them into an active job search, without allowing them to express their grief and loss. In both cases, clients experience a roller coaster ride of emotions. Even if a client was laid off from a job they didn't like, they still experience strong emotions. These feeling will be heightened, if the loss was sudden. Frequently, clients feel embarrassed about these strong feelings and ask me, “what feelings are normal?" Strong emotions are normal during this uncertain and life changing time.
Kubler-Ross Model of Stages of Grief (Wikipedia).
1) Denial, numbness, shock“Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of situations and individuals that will be left behind after death.”
Example - "I feel fine."; "This can't be happening, not to me."
For clients who have lost their jobs, denial protects them from experiencing the full force of the loss right away. They may feel shock or numbness about the situation, when they are first told, especially, if the loss is sudden.
“ In this stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person may have misplaced feelings and envy. Any individual that symbolizes life or energy is subject to projected resentment and jealousy.”
Example - "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; "Who is to blame?"
For clients who have lost their jobs, they may be angry or resentful at their boss, company or even the other coworkers who are still working. During times of downsizing, the coworkers left behind may feel anger that they are forced to assume multiple roles or take on double or triple the work. Also, the coworkers left behind may feel guilty that so many good people were laid off & feel that they don’t deserve to still have their job.
“The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the person is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time..."
Example - "Just let me live to see my children graduate."; "I'll do anything for a few more years."; "I will give my life savings if..."
For clients who have been handed a Pink Slip, they may replay scenarios in their mind about how they could have ‘prevented’ this loss. ie: If I was the perfect employee, if only I had done X or not done Y, I wouldn’t have lost my job. However, the implicit job contract, which are parents had with their employers, doesn’t exist any longer. Just because you are a great employee, and give your all to the company, doesn’t guarantee your job security. Conversely, most North American employees will change jobs every three years. We do not stick around for 30 years like our parents did, receive a retirement party & a gold watch at the end.
“During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving.”
Example - "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die . . . What's the point?"; "I miss my loved one, why go on?"
For clients who have lost their jobs, typical symptoms may include: Sleep and appetite changes, lack of energy or tearfulness. They may feel lonely and isolated since they have lost their former role, and identity. Their internal dialogue may include thoughts such as: I’m so sad, why bother with anything. I’m doing to lose my job anyways. What’s the point? I will miss my friends here and my job.” Additionally, this circle of depression, also may include employees who are fearful about potential or imminent job loss. Morale, on the job, in many industries and companies is at an all time low. This has huge impacts on productivity and North America’s GDP.
“This final stage comes with peace and understanding of the death that is approaching. Generally, the person in the fifth stage will want to be left alone. Additionally, feelings and physical pain may be non-existent. This stage has also been described as the end of the dying struggle.”
Example - "It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."
"Kubler-Ross originally applied these stages to people suffering from terminal illness or death of a loved one and later to any form of catastrophic personal loss (job, income, freedom).” These 5 stages are not linear an a person can cycle through stages in any order or even experience the same stage, multiple times. This can be a roller coaster ride. Some Psychologists believe that “the harder a person fights a loss, the more likely to stay in the denial stage, and not progress towards the acceptance stage”
Additional tips – to support people who have experiencing job loss
o There is no timeline. Allow them time to experience thoughts and feelings
o Allow them to have mixed emotions
o Encourage them to take time for themselves, use a journal, exercise, meditate.
o Listen to their confidences & the “story of the job loss.”
o If they do not want to discuss this with family or friends, encourage them to speak to a Career Counselor.
o Support them in identifying any unfinished business and coming to a resolution.
Whether you are a counselor, a family member or friend of someone who has lost their job, allow the person to feel their emotions. Do not rush them into the job search too early. Nothing can kill a job offer more quickly, than an interviewee who is either depressed or is still emotionally invested in their previous job, employer or company role. Provide compassionate support.
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Author: © 2009/2010 - All Rights Reserved - Sharon B. Cohen, MA,CPRP, Global MBA Career Counselor and Career Transition Specialist. Executive Career Education and Counseling