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This Too Shall Pass:

Grieving a Job Loss

There have been thousands of articles on the topic of being laid off, and that's a good thing. Unfortunately, losing a job is something that many people will face during their career. Even though the general economy is strong, companies are striving to remain competitive and cost-effective, and in many cases that translates into layoffs. Recent reductions in force in the oil and gas industry are taking their toll, but the rise in reductions in force has not been limited to the oil and gas industry. In 2015, Hewlett-Packard laid off 30,000 employees due to the elimination of their enterprises group. The increase in layoffs has not discriminated across industries and position levels.

What these myriad articles about layoffs fail to address is the emotional toll and turmoil an individual faces after being laid off. Grieving a job loss is an emotional roller coaster that is similar to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of grief.

Shock and Denial

Shock and denial, the initial stages of grief, set in as soon as that dreaded closed-door conversation with human resources begins. Whether you were blindsided by the news, or you were aware that your company was beginning a reduction in force, you may still be surprised at your reaction to the bad news. For example, the father of a close friend, who held a senior leadership position with one of the world's largest oil field services companies for over 30 years, was recently laid off. Even though his company had previously gone through multiple rounds of reductions in force, he believed his 30 year tenure would insulate him from the layoffs. His layoff took him off guard and it took time for him to believe it had happened to him. Surprise, shock and numbness are normal in these circumstances.


Once the initial shock and denial subside, the numbness fades and is replaced by anger. The anger is often directed at the employer, former coworkers, and the economy or even self-directed. I recall when I was laid off from a previous position; I dwelled in the anger stage longer than any other stage. I found myself replaying conversations where I was told my position was safe, and it only stoked my anger. Eventually I learned to direct my anger into a positive channel -- exercise. A study conducted in 2010, demonstrated the positive mood effects that exercising can have on managing anger. Exercise also helps to establish a routine that can give structure to your day. It can be a temporary replacement for time you would have spent at the office.

"What If" Scenarios and Bargaining

Self-criticism rears its ugly head throughout the grief process, even after the anger subsides; this is a time for introspection and evaluation. Often you will play out scenarios and ideas of what could have been done differently to save your position. Replaying every small mistake in your mind will eventually become tiresome, and you will realize that there is nothing you could have done, or even if you could have done something, it is too late now. The reality sets in that the company was required to cut costs and eliminate positions; it was business, not personal.

To combat the crippling self-doubt and loss of confidence in this stage, it is helpful to start writing down a list of your accomplishments, including professional and personal accomplishments. When you are ready to dust off your resume for the job search ahead, this period of introspection can be a useful exercise to identify and highlight your strengths.


Once the reality of being laid off has hit home, it is completely natural to experience depression and sadness. Sadness can manifest in many ways, including panic over finances, loss of appetite, loss of interest in things that normally bring you joy. This stage is the grief that defines the grieving process. It will be different for everyone, but it may be a good time to reach out for support from friends and loved ones. Chances are you know someone who has experienced what you're going through, and just having someone to talk to can be helpful. It is important that you feel the sadness without wallowing in it. It is normal and part of the healing process to feel the loss and sadness.

According to psychologists, developing a new routine can help manage depression. No longer having the daily routine of going into the office can affect your mood and mental state. When I was grieving the loss of my former role, I discovered it was helpful to keep a busy schedule that included, exercising, volunteering and beginning the early stages of my job search. By developing a routine, it allowed me to move forward onto accepting the loss.


Finally, you will reach the acceptance stage. It's hard to believe, but you will eventually accept that the layoff was business and not personal. It's time to look to the future and redefine your career.

For some this can be an exhilarating time, especially if your last position was not your passion. You have been given a blank slate and can focus on what is important to you in the next position. Look back and recognize the learning opportunity that being laid off has offered. Many executives comment in retrospect, that being laid off was ultimately a good thing. It allowed them the freedom to find an even better company or position. Finding a new position may be a challenge, but you are better able to handle the fits and starts once you have fully experienced the stages of grief and come out the other end to acceptance.

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