Friday, January 23, 2009
SURVIVAL Part 2: Job Loss Grief
by Jim Davis (Print complete Job Loss Survival Guide)
Understanding and Coping With Job-Loss Grief
Grief is perhaps one of the most misunderstood aspects of human life. We treat grief as an enemy. We fight it, or we try to pretend that it doesn't exist. The truth is, however, that grief is a healing process that is just as vital as the physical healing of cuts, bruises, and broken bones. And just as a severe physical injury can take a long time to heal, the death of a loved one, a divorce, or even a job loss normally means a substantial period of grief. Just as it is important to know how to take good care of ourselves during the recuperation from a physical trauma, we also need to understand how grief heals and what we must do for the healing to be complete.
Grief is usually associated with the death of a loved one, but there are other areas of life in which loss results in grief that is just as real. One of these has been experienced more and more often over the past several years due to the current trend of companies to "down-size" in order to survive. And, more recently because many businessis are not surviving. The majority of today's working population are likely to experience at least one job loss in their career lives. Job loss can bring about a grief that is in some ways more difficult to deal with than when a loved one dies. This is because of the increased complexity of job-loss grief in today's society.
For many people today, there are two major phases of job loss. The first one is relatively new, and although it can be helpful it brings new problems, too. I call it the "pre-termination" phase. In past years, it was common for firings to be swift and merciless, but more and more companies are now providing a transition period. This is the period of time beginning with advance notification of job termination and ending with the actual job loss. It can last from a few weeks to several months. It often involves job retraining and outplacement services which are provided by the company. On the downside, it is similar to being told you have only a short time to live, or a kind of "death sentence."
The "terminated" phase begins with the actual job loss, and unfortunately is still the only phase for many people. Even though the impact of actual unemployment can be lessened by a period of preparation, the grief process is still different for this phase. Many of the emotions do carry over, but the grief is more like that associated with the loss of a loved one. A way of life has ended, along with the security it provided.
Job-loss grief is further complicated by the fact that either of the two phases may occur without the other, as well as in sequence. The "pre-termination" phase could occur alone in the case where the person finds a new and more desirable job before their current employment ends. That might be more like resigning to take a better job. The "terminated" phase may occur alone if the person is fired with no warning. Often however, even when a person finds a replacement job before unemployment begins it doesn't totally eliminate the next phase. The new job still means a new environment, new people, and possible relocation. This often involves a pay cut, reduced benefits, and starting over at the bottom of the seniority ladder.
Many times, of course, the person has trouble finding a new job even if there is a transition period. When this happens, the feelings of rejection, betrayal, anger, and other emotions often resurface. When I was in the Tennessee Valley Authority's Employee Transition Program in 1991, I served as coordinator of the Knoxville office for several months. During that time I saw this happen repeatedly, even though the program offered retraining, outplacement, and counseling. People who had been through a six month transition period without finding a job would come out of the formal termination meeting in a slightly dazed condition. Then they would appear to regress somewhat.
It wasn't until I began to study grief that I realized that what I thought was regression was really something else. It was more like the change from anticipatory grief, when you know a loved one is going to die, to the grief when death has actually occurred. In this case, however, there are some major distinctions. One distinction is that death is universally recognized as inevitable. But, in most people's minds, job loss of any kind is still primarily associated with failure. There is also another difference when you are notified in advance. It feels somewhat like you have been told you have only weeks or months to live, but that after you die you will still have to pay all the medical bills, provide an income, care for your family, and so on. Of course, if used wisely this transition period can be extremely valuable, but at the outset it is still overwhelming.
End of Part 2