Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash
“I’m not grieving!” was a shocked response from one of my clients many years ago when I mentioned that being laid-off requires a grieving process to bring closure to the experience she’d had and to find ways to move forward into what was next for her career. Grieving is a strong word, one we associate with the loss of loved ones, relationships that have broken apart or family members who have passed away. We don’t associate grieving with job loss, but like any important relationship in our lives, job loss has elements of grief accompanying it (whether we want it to or not).
There is no right or wrong way to grieve job loss, and many of us (myself included) have felt betrayed when a job we loved (or even just liked) ended before we ready for it to end. We feel the sensible thing to do next is “get on with it”, and we do, but that leads to burying our feelings (or even the fact that we are unemployed) making a part of us hidden and unseen. This is the first phase in the grieving process, denial (following the model set out by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler). It is human to want to “fast forward” past the shame and vulnerability of losing your job, but the danger here is you don’t celebrate the many things you contributed while you were there, you may not continue the friendships you made or fully recognize the experience you gained with that organization – it is like it never happened.
Anger is also a part of the grieving process and is a normal human response to a circumstance you didn’t see coming and didn’t want. It is about the senselessness of it, the lack of control or your ability to prevent it from happening in the future (take that “economic down-turn!”). Anger is scary and uncomfortable but it is a way to help us “let go” of what was and prepare for our “what’s next”. Which is usually bargaining. “I didn’t really like that job anyway, the company probably won’t be here in another 3 years!”. This is where we explore our change in employment status from a few different perspectives, trying to find one that is more palatable than the truth. Once we’ve hit rock bottom, having exhausted our anger and hearing the hollowness of our bargaining we find ourselves wondering what we could have done different or better to avoid this outcome. The truth, that there is very little (or nothing, in the case of economic layoff) you could have done to prevent being let go from work, is depressing. It can make looking for your next job feel futile (what is the point, you might just get laid off again!). This is a lonely place where there is no objectivity and no options; this is not a place where your well-being stays intact for long. From here, most of us find ourselves moving into the last aspect in grieving; acceptance. Here you decide to move on and embrace a future from where you are, looking for opportunities that provide for your career development needs and give you new challenges. You are more able to both honour, and let go of, what you experienced in your last role and are open to something new.
None of these aspects of grieving happen in a straight line, in fact you bounce around them, you can even occupy two of them at the same time (angry and depressed anyone?). What is key is recognizing that our work forms a fundamental part of who we are, it is a relationship we choose to participate in willingly, both giving and receiving value and meaning within it. When that is stripped away it impacts our well-being, and while “grieving” a job may seem self-indulgent, or senseless, it is an important part of being able to move on. Let yourself grieve, give yourself closure. Honour all of who you are, and who you were in that role, and continue from a place of “I am an abundance of potential…just watch me”.