It occurred to me a couple weeks ago when a friend of mine was let go from his job that "Bob" was experiencing the psychological stages of mourning much like we would do for a loved one but for a job. Bob had worked at his job for more than a couple years, and he considered himself an company staple and had surfed the corporate waves of change and survived.
In the bereavement or mourning process, there is no magic amount of time we spend in each stage of grief or the amount of time before we accept the change and learn to move forward. Because of our own financial obligations, often times we do not allow ourselves the appropriate amount of time to grieve.
- Denial and Isolation. The first reaction to learning about job loss or change is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts and say things like, "I never saw this coming, " or adding to the company grapevine. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
- Anger. As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at the person's previous place of employment which is often the case. Depending on the situation and if the the job loss was progressive and based on our lack of performance as an employee, rationally, we know the company is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent it for causing us pain. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry. The manager who brought our attention to the lack of performance or who delivered the message, might become a convenient target. I recommend arranging a special appointment to speak to someone in Human Resource. Ask for clear answers to your questions. Understand the options available to you like severance or unemployment. Take your time.
- Bargaining. The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control. If only we had sought attention sooner from our manager, our friends, or family. If we got a second chance. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.
- Depression. Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret are common. We worry about the financial loss associated with being unemployed. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation where we remove ourselves from those that we love. Sometimes all we really need is a hug or big fat job offer.
- Acceptance. Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. However, I urge you to make your peace with caution. Burning bridges and making poor choices during mourning can and will have long term professional consequences. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.