Budget cuts and restructuring are a normal part of business, regardless of the industry. Even in a strong economy, skilled workers may find their jobs on the chopping block. Layoffs bring a wave of emotions, from feelings of betrayal, sadness, and disappointment, not to mention the panic someone experiences when they lose their primary source of income. These emotions come whether someone has been in their position for a year or a decade, and they can be a blow to an individual’s self-confidence and overall mental health.
Losing a job is among the most traumatic things a person can experience. The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale ranks it among other stressors such as a major change in a family member’s health, a change in marital status, and the death of a close friend. Taking the time to process the job loss and connect with others who have similar experiences can help someone gain the confidence they need to embark on a new career.
Taking the Time to Grieve and Process the Loss
After losing their job, it’s important to take time to process the loss. In the same way, that someone may grieve the loss of a friendship, moving to a new city, or the passing of a beloved pet, it’s necessary to recognize the grief that comes from losing a job.
Why Do We Grieve After a Job Loss?
Involuntary job loss is among the more traumatic experiences someone may face. Many people derive a lot of their self-confidence and identity from their work. If they’re succeeding in their career, that’s a reflection of their dedication, hard work, and discipline. On the flip side, if their career takes an unexpected turn, they may question whether they have what it takes to achieve their goals.
A job loss also typically involves the loss of important relationships. Particularly when someone has been with their company for a long time, they may have close relationships with their colleagues. It’s normal to feel grief when those relationships are abruptly and unexpectedly severed.
For some, a job loss also brings changes in their standard of living. They may be forced to cut their kids’ extracurricular activities, back off of their hobbies, or downgrade their housing. This loss in stability and routine can be jarring, adding to the trauma of the job loss.
The Stages of Grief After a Layoff
The stages of grief following a job loss mirror the stages that follow any other profound loss.
Shock and Denial
While plenty of workers are blindsided by the message that their job title no longer exists, many people see the writing on the wall before getting the official notice. Either way, it can be shocking to get that message, and many workers have a hard time believing it’s true.
Many workers invest heavily in their jobs, taking ownership of their careers by pouring their time, talents, and creativity into their roles. Anger is a normal response when they lose their jobs to cutbacks or restructuring. It’s generally understood that if someone works hard and is loyal to their company, the company will be loyal to them as well. Anger is a natural reaction when that loyalty doesn’t go both ways.
Some people resist the layoff by attempting to bargain with their company, offering to cut their hours or take on more responsibilities to preserve their jobs. It may take time for them to fully accept their situation.
Sadness is normal after a job loss, especially for someone who found their job to be fulfilling and enjoyed their coworkers. Depending on someone’s mental health history, they may be more vulnerable to developing clinical depression and would benefit from professional help.
Eventually, the individual comes to terms with the layoff. This doesn’t mean that they’re happy about the experience, but it does mean that they’re able to accept it. Eventually, the negative emotions wear away, and they’re in a better place to look for a new job opportunity.
Focusing on Self-Care and Wellness
Upon news of a layoff, many people go into panic mode, updating their resume and sending it to every employer they can think of. Unfortunately, this strategy is rarely successful. Workers are usually much better off if they can take a minimum of 24 hours to process their emotions, and then spend some time focusing on their mental and physical health before moving forward.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health
Job loss brings on a significant change in routine along with feelings of panic, stress, and disappointment. Unsurprisingly, many people find that mental health issues crop up after an unexpected layoff. To preserve mental health during this period, individuals may want to focus on things that bring enjoyment, such as spending time with family, enjoying hobbies, and getting outside.
Taking Care of Your Physical Health
Most people’s daily routines revolve around their jobs, including when they wake up in the morning or go to bed at night when they eat, and when they carve out time for exercise. Losing a job can disrupt that routine, and the lack of structure can cause the individual’s physical health to suffer. Taking care of physical health during the days or weeks after a job loss may require setting an alarm to stay on a regular sleep schedule, intentionally eating at regular meal times, and setting aside time for physical fitness.
Seeking Professional Help
Not everyone is in the right frame of mind to continue caring for their physical and mental health after a job loss. In these cases, it may be a good idea to get help from a mental health professional.
Developing a Plan to Move Forward
After taking an appropriate amount of time to process the loss, the individual needs to take steps toward their next career. It can feel intimidating to think about going through the application and interview processes and potentially being set up for disappointment, but developing a plan to move forward can help cut down on the anxiety.
Change Your Mindset
While a layoff can feel personal, it’s important to remember that it’s not. Either the company didn’t properly prepare for a turbulent economy or it changed its business strategy; neither scenario is a commentary on the qualifications or quality of the workers it laid off.
For those feeling discouraged about their job loss, it may be helpful to take some time to remember situations in which they were recognized for their contributions and reflect on the parts of their job they found most fulfilling. This can help them be in a more positive headspace, which is necessary when looking for a new job.
Define What You Want from Your Career
Deciding between a large company or a small one, whether the job needs to be local, or if you’re willing to move, and whether you’re seeking the same role or a different path altogether, is important to nail down before beginning the hunt.
Make an Action Plan
Creating a job-hunting schedule can help you stay on track. Write out a plan that outlines who you’ll talk to when you network, which days you’ll spend looking at online listings, and how you’ll redraft your resume for the jobs you want. It’s also a good idea to find out what kind of interview questions are normal in your career field and practice your answers.
Finding Your Support System
Even though job loss can feel isolating, the truth is that many people know what it’s like to suddenly find themselves unemployed. It’s helpful to connect with a support system as you’re coping with a layoff. Talking about your feelings with friends and family can be beneficial. You may also want to seek out a job loss support group, either online or in-person, to speak with others who are experiencing the stress from job loss firsthand.
In some cases, speaking with a mental health professional such as a therapist about how you’re feeling about the layoff is necessary. They can help you process your emotions, develop a strategy for seeking a new job, and take care of your physical and mental health in the meantime.