5 Stages of Grieving Over a Job Loss

Photo by Aturkus

Photo by Aturkus

Losing your job can feel a lot like losing someone you love.

Think about it.  First, there’s the financial aspect—you had money to feed your family, and now you don’t.  That’s bad.  But there’s also the social aspect—you spent eight (or more) hours a day with these people, and now they’re suddenly out of your life.  You say that you’ll keep in touch, but that usually doesn’t happen.  There’s also the loss of identity—you walked around saying, “I am an accountant,” or “I am an HR director,” and now you walk around saying, “I am unemployed.”  For some people, that’s huge.  It’s no surprise that people who lose their jobs often go through a profound grieving process.  It’s certainly not on the same scale as losing someone you love, but the process can be very similar for many people.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross came up with a list of five distinct stages of grief.  Although her work was focused on people dealing with terminal illness, I think it often applies to the loss of a job as well.  Knowing up front what the process looks like can help you move through it more quickly.  These are the five stages of grief:

  1. Denial—This can’t be happening to me! This is where you are still buying purses and having lunch at Noodles and Company twice a week, because you haven’t gotten it through your head that the direct deposit is really going to end soon (okay, maybe that was just me). It takes a while for the news to sink in, even when you can see it coming a mile away.  I’m amazed at how many people can watch round after round of layoffs in their company, and still be shocked when they get the word themselves.  If you are lucky enough to get a severance package, this stage can last an especially long time, because the direct deposit really doesn’t stop right away.
  2. AngerHow could they do this to me? This is where you mentally list every fabulous thing you ever did at work and rail against these weenies who don’t appreciate you.  You obsess about the slacker in the next cube who survived when you didn’t, or the idiot boss who chose to save the one who is better at playing politics than he is at actually doing the work.   It’s normal to spend some time in this phase, but some people get stuck here and can’t move forward.  That’s really self-defeating, because that pissed-off attitude is a HUGE barrier to getting hired someplace else.
  3. Bargaining—Maybe if I just… Not everybody does this, but some employees try like crazy to keep their jobs, even after the ax has fallen.  Some look for a job within the same company, even when it’s clear that the company itself is in bad shape.  Others offer to take pay cuts, take on extra work, go part time…anything to stay with their current organization.  Once in a great while, this actually works, but I’ve found that even when employees manage to hang on, there are often bad feelings that make it a miserable experience.
  4. Depression—I’m never going to get a job. This is a normal feeling in any job search, but in the current downturn, I don’t know many people who aren’t spending a good bit of time in this stage.  Even great candidates are having trouble finding jobs, and it’s difficult to avoid feeling completely overwhelmed by the situation.
  5. Acceptance—Well, that sucked.  What’s next? The fact is that you WILL find a job.  It might be a while, but it’s incredibly unlikely that you will be unemployed forever.  You will get through this.  We will all get through this.  In the meantime, you will experience the joy that comes from being able to grocery shop in the middle of the day—and that does not suck one bit.

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