“Poetry is about the grief. Politics is about the grievance.” Robert Frost
It was a wonderful morning when I wobbled over to the Director’s office at the UP Institute of Small Scale Industries (UP-ISSI). The month of January 1986 was just a few months before I gave birth to my eldest girl, Lauren and I was always in high spirits. I thought the new director just wanted to talk business. Meet and greet each other formally. It looked like he had great plans for UP-ISSI which didn’t include me. The new director informed me that my contract will be terminated. (UP then was in freeze hiring so I was always under a contract). Part of me died with the notice. I was angry, depressed, confused, hurt, and worried. I was so bitter and angry at the new director because I was passionate and competent in my job in research and consultancy. Sometimes I think he just terminated me because I was hired by the past director. I didn’t believe there was shortage of funds because I was hired through a foundation of the institute. I had high hopes about going back to work but they never hired me back. It was really a devastating loss. It wasn’t even the financial aspect that made me feel bad. The research and consultancy work served as part of my identity, a place to use my skills and talents and watch them build over time as I believed I became more competent at them. I went through the grief process of anger, denial, barganing in that roller coaster ride and finally accepting the loss.
I guess there is a silver lining to all this. I became a full-time mother devoted to bringing up my children. If I continued on with my work at UP-ISSI, I would have been such a workaholic with little time for my growing kids.
When someone talks about grief, it is often associated with a death of a loved one. When I started this blog, I talked of my grief journey after my son’s death. There are other areas of life in which loss results in grief that is just as real. One of these is being experienced more and more often due to the current trend of companies to “down-size.”
There are employees terminated after working 10, 25, or 30+ years with a company. If you are one of these employees, “you’re allowed to feel badly, to grieve.” Grief is a process that one goes through after the experience of losing a job.” It is not a good idea to deny your true feelings about your job loss. One has to go through the five grief stages so that it does not add stress on your mind and body which can be seriously destructive to your health.
The first step is to admit you are grieving. Then decide if you want to get better.
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. Anger—How 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.
Having gone through a grief journey after losing five family members, just know that the grief process is NOT linear. It is a roller coaster ride. One goes from step 1 to 2 then goes back to step 1, until one reaches the acceptance phase.
To my dear friends who lost their jobs, I got touched by your loss that I teared as I expressed my thoughts. Just feel what you need to feel and let it out. Talk to friends, those who are close to you and who will let you go through what you need to do. You will be fine.