Monday, May 28, 2012

Losing your job: dealing with loss and bouncing back

Over the course of their lifetime, many people will deal with the loss of a job. We have started a series of short blogs about this experience. The first addresses the difficulties that people who lose their jobs may experience and the mourning period that follows. The second covers things that can be learned from the experience. The third short text looks at the experience of the managers who are doing the lay-offs. Job loss is often a difficult experience. It can affect people on different levels:

  • It can undermine identity: For many people, their identity is linked, in part, to their work. For example, some will identify themselves with their workplace or their profession. This sense of identity can be shaken after losing a job.
  • Self-esteem and self-confidence are also often tested, and it is very important to work at rebuilding them.
  • Some people may be embarrassed by losing their job, regardless of the reasons for the job loss. This feeling is very difficult to deal with and to share; talking with people who have had a similar experience can help decrease its intensity.
  • Losing a job can also bring back memories of other losses, like losing a job in the past, or losing a parent.
  • Many will agonize about the uncertainty, their future, their financial situation, etc.
  • It creates stress for many people; this stress can also affect other facets of their life.
  • The experience can cause psychological distress that sometimes worsens and leads to depression or other mental health problems. In such cases, people should not hesitate to consult with a professional who will be able to help them overcome these problems.
  • The loss of a job also gives rise to what we call secondary losses, like the loss of colleagues, routine, lifestyle, etc.

Mourning the loss

Losing a job often causes grief, which Kübler-Ross (1969) divides into the following stages:

  1. Denial: The moment a person learns the news and in the moments that follow, he or she will sometimes have difficulty understanding what's happening and may be disbelieving. Some people will be very passive, others quite the opposite, staying very active to avoid thinking about the loss.
  2. Anger (or guilt, when anger is redirected at themselves) sometimes follows. Some people will blame themselves or blame their colleagues, employer, etc. for certain facts or actions. Some will be irritable, feeling a sense of betrayal or injustice.
  3. Bargaining (in other words, an attempt to negotiate with reality) can also follow. At times, people attempt to stay with the organization by any means (for example, by accepting a deep salary cut).
  4. Sadness or situational depression can occur frequently over the course of a person's grieving. People who lose a job often feel a sense of weariness, loss of energy and moodiness. Some may experience deep sadness, but at times, they fall into a real depression. It is important to seek professional help, for example from a psychologist, if sadness is overwhelming or depression is setting in.
  5. Acceptance and hope. The person acknowledges his or her loss and becomes invested in other projects. The person then becomes increasingly aware of the lessons learned from the experience, and the hope of finding another job is often rekindled.

Losing a job can cause various hardships, none of which should be underestimated. However, in the next blog, we'll see that it can also be a turning point, where the person takes the time to explore how to turn this experience into a learning opportunity, and sometimes, it becomes an opportunity to refocus.

Valérie Bourgeois-Guérin
Ph.D. candidate
Y2 Consulting Psychologists

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