The Five Stages of Unemployment Grief
Whether you lost your job due to companywide downsizing or you were fired because you weren’t a good fit for the position, chances are that you will experience unemployment grief. Much like the grief that is experienced in our personal lives, professional grief has five stages. For each stage (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), it is important to both recognize where you are in the grieving process as well as how to move forward so that you don’t let grieving over losing your job completely stall your career and widen your unemployment gap even further.
What it looks like: Denial can range from believing that your previous employer will change their mind and want you to come back, to telling yourself (and others) that you are fine and that you will be better off. The basis of denial is that you have yet to accept the reality of the situation. In this stage of grief, your internal dialogue might be questioning if you are truly unemployed or you may not allow yourself to think about it at all.
How to move forward: In order to move on, it is important to recognize when you are denying the impact that losing your job is having on you emotionally, professionally and financially. The best way to build awareness and move past the denial stage is to evaluate and reflect on your current situation as well as the events that resulted in your unemployment. Unfortunately, moving out of denial also means facing financial realities and making some sound decisions for the time that you are unemployed.
What it looks like: While the anger stage of grief takes a different form for everyone, it most often involves being upset (sometimes irrationally) with yourself, your former employer, the coworkers who didn’t lose their jobs and even the economic climate of the area that you worked in.
How to move forward: There are many acceptable ways to deal with anger so that you can move forward without letting your temper get the best of you. These include: finding a support system that will allow you to vent, getting out and exercising to release some endorphins, and keeping a journal to help you organize your thoughts. What won’t help you to move on is venting to strangers on Facebook, writing unflattering Glass Door reviews about your previous company, or badmouthing your previous company to anyone on the street who will listen.
What it looks like: Bargaining after losing your job often manifests in the form of questioning if you could have done something differently to change the outcome. “If I had done ______, then I could have been more successful in my position and not been let go”, is a very common bargaining thought. By considering every way that you could have done better, you are trying to regain control of a situation in which you felt powerless. While it is important to learn from your past, it is also important that you don’t focus on the “what ifs” to the extent that they cause you to only look to the past instead of focusing on creating a future.
How to move forward: Eventually, you need to stop considering the “what ifs” and start regaining your power by recognizing the areas that you excelled in, along with the lessons that you learned through your time with that company. By doing this, you will be able to speak confidently about your previous work experience during future interviews despite losing your job.
What it looks like: Depression takes many forms; however, in its simplest form, it is recognizable by an individual not being themselves. In addition to feeling down and upset, it’s not unusual for someone who is working through this stage of grief to change their proactive and healthy habits for ones that do not reflect their personal or professional goals.
How to move forward: Depression after losing a job, especially if the split wasn’t amicable, is a valid emotion. Once you have let yourself feel depressed, eaten a box of chocolates and moped around the house in your pajamas for a day or two, start an unemployment routine. The purpose of this routine should be to make yourself the best you that you can be as you enter a new phase of your professional life. Create a daily schedule that outlines time to work on your resume, apply for jobs, network, exercise, and give back to the community by volunteering.
What it looks like: Acceptance can be recognized by the ability to remain objective in your description of what transpired. Sure, you may feel a twinge of anger or depression about being unemployed, but your overall demeanor will reflect that you are ready to leave the incident and unemployment in the past and move forward.
How to move forward: As the final stage of the grieving process, acceptance will allow you to move forward by seriously looking for job opportunities that will be a better fit for you. In this stage, it is important to take what you learned from your previous job with you into interviews and your future career without dwelling on the past.
As you go through the grieving process of losing a job, remember that everyone goes through the stages of grief differently. There is no right or wrong way to handle being thrust into unemployment, but it is important to be aware of where you are in the grief process and how to move forward so that you don’t remain unemployed for too long.