Psychology Today: Here To Help


Job Search Blues
Getting Laid Off Is Tough,
But There Are Ways to Cope
By Catherine Valenti 

Sept. 7 — More than 1.1 million people have been laid off so far this year. That's almost the entire population of Idaho.

And with the economy in the doldrums, that number shows no signs of slowing. So if you've been or think you're about to be laid off, the experts say it's just as important to deal with the emotional impact of this loss as the financial.

The Stages of Grieving

Losing your job may not be the end of the world, but getting laid off can have the same psychological impact on you as losing someone close to you. Many employment consultants say those who have lost their jobs experience stages of grieving similar to the ones people go through after a loved one has died.

These stages, popularized by psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, include a wave of emotions that run from shock and denial to anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance. They key to weathering a layoff is not only realizing that these emotions may sprout up, but also knowing how to deal with them, say job counselors.

"People need to understand that this is an extremely emotional experience," says Damian Birkel, founder of Professionals in Transition, a nonprofit support group for job seekers based in Winston-Salem, N.C. "You need to give yourself time and space and the privacy to go through the process and look at what's happened to you to kind of adjust and recuperate."

Ideally, most employees should not hit the shock phase, but they do. Employment counselors say by realistically looking at trends in their industry, the economy and what's happening in your company, workers should be able to see the writing on the wall when it comes to layoffs.

"You should know how your company is doing and how you stack up," says Bernadette Kenny, executive vice president of global retained search and career services at placement firm Lee Hecht and Harrison. Being excluded from meetings or ignored by management are two signs that you may be on the outs, she says.

The Angry Phase

When shock quickly turns to anger, don't give in to the temptation of speaking out. The world is smaller than you think, says Kenny, and what you say about a former employer can easily get back to them via the rumor mill.

Instead, try to funnel that anger into more positive avenues. Birkel says exercising during this crucial stage is key to venting your anger. Focus your energy on evaluating your life, work, and where you want to go from here, adds Laurence J. Stybel, founding partner of Boston-based consulting firm Stybel-Peabody Lincolnshire.

"My clients who are in that [angry] mindset are in a mode to do an aggressive job search," says Stybel. "When it can be channeled in that way, it's really terrific."

However, experts caution job seekers to think before they act. Don't just jump right into a new position without thinking about whether or not it's really right for you, warns Stybel.

In the same vein, counselors say job seekers should be selective when deciding who to tell they've been laid off. Family and close friends should be told, but before telling everyone in your industry, first step back and see whether or not that person is really a gatekeeper to where you want to go.

"Look at the target network person and think, 'What could that person do for me?'" says Kenny. "Have that prepared before you talk to them. Otherwise, you're wasting a good networking opportunity."

Let's Make a Deal

The next common stage, bargaining, occurs when the unemployed berates himself, thinking that he could have done something to save his job, and that if he only found another job he would do better. Birkel says it's a common trap: People think a job savior is going to come by and offer them a fabulous job opportunity.

The way to get out of this mindset is to accept responsibility for your job search and your future and to quit hoping for a chance opportunity that may never come, says Birkel.

When that realization does set in and the job offers still aren't coming, what often follows is depression. One of the most devastating stages in the job loss process, depression can eat away at people's self-esteem, tear apart their families and make them feel hopeless about their future.

Depression is never an easy beast to slay, but there are some strategies to at least keep it in check. Establishing a daily routine, where you have set hours dedicated to the job search and set hours dedicated to other pursuits like hobbies or spending time with your family and friends, can help.

Doing volunteer work for people less fortunate can also help keep your situation in perspective, while exercise can be a mood elevator.

Above all else, experts say, don't take a layoff personally. Remember that everyone goes through it at some point or another. The old adage that it takes a lot of nos to get to yes was never truer than when you're looking for a job.