How Do You Cope With Job Loss Grief?

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24-07-2015

4 min read

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Useful guidelines to make the best out of a rough and dry season

When there is job loss, whether one is fired due to poor performance or laid off due to the company’s poor performance, there is ensuing grief as grief is a natural consequence of all types of losses.

This grief needs to be addressed. If the grief is bypassed or suppressed, one runs the risk of getting into depression or other mental health problems in later years.

Emotional impact of job loss

Following job loss, grief can emerge in a number of ways.

Over four decades ago, a psychiatrist named Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief for terminal patients facing death in her hospital.

They are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance.

Although losing one’s job is not the same as the prospect of losing one’s life, the same elements of these stages from denial to acceptance can still manifest in our emotions.

In the early stage, for example, an employee facing potential lay-off may tell herself as part of her initial denial that it will affect some of her colleagues but not herself.

As the reality sinks in that she is in fact laid off, she may be angry over her perceptions of “why me?” and other injustices.

Such anger can be directed at her past employers, those who are retained, oneself, family members or other convenient targets.

Bargaining can take the form of hope of subsequent re-employment within the same organisation or securing an alternative job within a short time.

Feelings of sadness and depression will soon set in as our daily job routines are disrupted and we are separated from our usual roles that give us our identity and self-worth.

As time passes, one begins to adjust emotionally to the job loss and comes to eventual acceptance of what has taken place to prepare oneself to face the challenges ahead.

Overall, losing a job affects different people in various ways as each person grieves in a unique manner despite the general patterns of human thought, feelings and behaviour.

Furthermore, we must also understand that the passage of grief is a process and the stages of grief may overlap, occur in any order or simultaneously, be of varying intensity and of unpredictable duration, and may disappear or reappear at random.

Other impacts of job loss affecting grief

Economic concerns are often a natural consequence of job loss as one thinks of the monthly upkeep expenses and the bills and mortgage instalments to be paid.

Common worries include “how long can my savings last” and when can one expect to receive new income.

At the same time, we are all social beings who need to relate to one another and losing a job will disconnect us from our former colleagues, resulting in feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Furthermore, if we identify ourselves by our jobs and derive meaning and purpose from our work, job loss can shatter our worldview and we can feel empty and directionless.

We also need to remember that our family unit is a system and job loss will affect the dynamics of the whole family.

Everyone in the family needs to adapt to the change since all these factors will significantly impact the spousal and parental relationships.

These other impacts of job loss can separately or in combination add to the pain of grief within us.

Coping with job loss

Job loss usually presents major coping challenges in managing our grief and other impacts. Many people will ignore their grief to concentrate on their finances and search for a new job.

However, the emotional distress can negatively impact our ability to function effectively by disrupting our concentration and impairing our judgment.

The following coping guidelines may be helpful:

1. Confronting the grief

Grief is often experienced as an entangled ball of emotions that are distressing and debilitating.

Grief needs to be processed and ventilated through:

  • Telling the loss: Talking about the loss with someone who understands what we are going through and can empathise with us can be comforting. A grief shared is a grief halved.
  • Resolving issues: Many of our emotional issues arise out of wrong perceptions and our unconscious desire to hold convenient targets of blame for our sufferings. We need someone to gently point out to us our faulty thoughts and attitudes.
  • Finding new meaning: As we question our assumptions about how the world works, like our belief that diligent work will be recognised and rewarded, we need someone to encourage and guide us to re-examine and reconstruct a new worldview that can accommodate our job loss experience.
  • Seeking professional help if necessary: If our grief is overwhelming and depression or other mental illnesses set in, we need to see a psychiatrist or therapist.

2. Organising and getting going

The job loss leaves a big void within us and we need to organise ourselves to fill it up. Inactivity will soon breed helplessness that pushes us deeper into our grief.

Addressing our grief due to job loss requires that we not only attend to the emotional pain but also maintain a positive problem-solving attitude and a proactive approach such as below:

  • Act on what’s in your control: Don’t look too far ahead but just do what you can each day. Focus on your present resources and strengths to make whatever adjustments that are necessary and start finding a new job. Keep away from negative people who only complain and take no action.
  • Establish an active routine: Put routine back into your day and make a daily job search plan. Wake up at regular times and get out of the house if necessary.
  • Maintain helpful relationships: Don’t isolate yourself but maintain contact with people who may be able to help you in your job search. Remind them that you are looking for a job and seek their support.
  • Learn from experience: Rejection is a common experience during a job search. Learn from the experience by finding out why you are not selected as an avenue for self-improvement.

In conclusion

It is difficult seasons like these that give us the opportunity to re-orientate the priorities in life.

You did not ask for such a season but while you are stuck in it, you might as well make the best of the time in a most productive way to seek the deeper meaning of life and emerge a better person.

Dr Edmund Ng, a former business CEO, works as a psychotherapist and is a US-certified thanatologist. Together with his wife Pauline, they founded GGP Outreach, a community-based agency that journeys alongside those who grieve. Engage with him at editor@leaderonomics.com. For more Hard Talk articles, click here.

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