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Navigating Job Loss

If you’re one of the 40% of people in the US who have experienced job loss, you’re not alone.  While job loss is common, many of us do not anticipate such an outcome.  In fact, 47% of people say they were not prepared for a potential layoff or job loss and 48% of people are uncertain and fearful about their job security.  Feelings of guilt and apprehension are especially common among those who are left behind or asked to facilitate a layoff or termination.

There are many reasons people lose their jobs.  Even if inevitable, a job loss can be traumatizing and lead to feelings of shock, embarrassment, guilt, and anger.  Allowing space to process, grieve and care for yourself in the midst of loss, will not only support you to move through the difficult experience but also set you up for a more confident and hopeful future.

Strategies to Cope with Job Loss: 

1. Immediate first steps. 

Tap into existing resources to ensure you are prepared to handle the financial impact and potential gap in income. File for unemployment. Ask for a layoff letter. Ask for severance. Get the support you need to organize your finances.

2. Acknowledge and express your feelings.

Giving yourself time to process your feelings with compassion and understanding can be particularly therapeutic.  The vulnerability, pressure and stress of a job loss can be a lot to handle, affecting your ego and sense of self.  For many, our jobs give us meaning, value, purpose, community and a sense of contribution and impact.  With a loss of our job, we can face a shift or crisis in identity… who am I without work?

As time passes, you may feel a wide range of emotions, and some that may catch you off guard.  As Dr. Becky Kennedy, author of Good Inside, states, “two things can be true”.  You may feel angry AND grateful, misunderstood AND cared for, hurt AND relieved.

Consider different strategies to express your emotions.  Talk about them.  Write about them.  Engage in an artistic activity, such as drawing or painting.  Explore ways to move your body, such as walking, swimming or dancing.  Get outdoors to reflect through nature.  Cognitive defusion, the practice of identifying and naming your emotions, can also be a helpful strategy to create distance between you and your feelings and space to step back and learn.

3. Normalize the grieving process.

As you’re experiencing the range of feelings that come after being unemployed, you may notice feeling waves of grief.  Grief is a natural emotional response to a loss.  As psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross describes, there are five stages of grief that you may feel during a loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  And a sixth stage has recently been identified by grief specialist, David Kessler: finding new meaning after loss.  

Everyone’s grieving process is unique.  These stages are helpful to describe your experience, not prescribe what you should feel.  Grief doesn't have a time frame and may ebb and flow as you navigate life after change and loss.  You may find you are continuing to learn new things about yourself even years after the loss.  What’s important is that you allow yourself to experience and engage with the feelings that show up for you in the moment to cultivate the healing needed to move through your life.

4. Stay connected.

Feelings of shame or embarrassment may tempt us to pull away from relationships after job loss, but leaning into community can actually be the most helpful approach when possible.  While everyone processes and grieves differently, we often need more connection, comfort and support from others. Talk about your experience and allow others to hold space and empathy for you. Spend time with people who give you life and energy and help you come back to yourself. We can do and handle more than we think in the context of our community. 

5. Get curious & consider a shift in perspective.

It’s easy to ruminate over the” what if’s” or “what really happened”, especially when we don’t have all of the information.  Taking it personally or blaming ourselves can be a sticky place that doesn’t allow for much movement or compassion.  Explore writing down your accomplishments, contributions and strengths.  Practice validating and affirming yourself through this experience. Maybe this loss was what you needed. Perhaps it will lead to other ideas or possibilities you weren’t able to imagine before.

6. Create a routine.

The adjustment that comes with a job loss can be disorienting. Work typically provides structure and built-in relationships.  Finding ways to create rhythms, be consistent and stay productive can be key to creating stability during this time of transition. 

7. Diversify your time.

It may be tempting to put all of your energy into job searching and interviews right away. Consider devoting your time and attention to what you enjoy and fills you.  Find a new hobby or interest or nurture what you love.  It may be interesting to see how this shift in focus can be the catalyst for getting clear with what you want and need to put your best foot forward.

8. When ready, prioritize next steps. 

As you step back, re-evaluate and explore possibilities, the time will come when action is needed. Consider using work analogies to get on your feet, such as, who’s on your team? Identify who can be a support person, cheerleader, or networking reference. Tap into existing resources, such as a career center, to offer guidance as needed. Ask trusted colleagues to reflect on your strengths. Determine what you like and dislike in your last role and jobs you come across in your search. Explore what you want and need moving forward. Getting clear with yourself about your direction and establishing S.M.A.R.T. goals along the way, can be beneficial in building momentum and taking the next best step.

Closing Thoughts

Owning your story and showing up to yourself after a job loss is key in the process of change, healing and growth. It may be especially helpful to find ways to make meaning out of this time of transition.  Regardless of your approach,  navigating this change in your life through a lens of acceptance and understanding is an essential step in moving forward.  

As Brené Brown, author of Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution., states, When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending—to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends.” 

Brown, B. and Kessler, D. (2020). Grief and finding meaning.
Bogenberger, R. (2023). Grief: Stages, symptoms and support.
Leonard, K. and Watts, R. (2022). The ultimate guide to S.M.A.R.T. goals.
Lyons, M. (2022). What to do after being laid off.
Paulus, N. (2023). How to survive and bounce back from being laid off.
Peppercorn, S. (2023). Managing your emotions after being laid off.