Right-sized, down-sized, cut lose, laid off , let go, declared excess, victimized by a company’s collapse, or fired, losing one’s job — for whatever reason — is just plain AWFUL and very painful in most cases.
I was involuntarily let go once. I was 19 years old and a busboy at a resort hotel in Florida. I was one of the last new hires for the summer rush and thus one of the first let go come September. I had worked hard, tried not to irritate anybody, was reasonably good at the job, and let them know that I wanted to stay on for the Fall. Although my dismissal was perfectly rational, economically sensible from the hotel’s perspective, and understandable in the abstract, I was — irrational and immature though it was — really hurt and still remember the feeling. Thus I can only imagine the intensity of that feeling in an adult with a family to support.
Over a decade ago, I encountered a marvelous book entitled “Die Broke” by Stephen M. Pollan — a highly respected and well-known financial advisor. The book sets forth a fairly radical financial plan that allows one to live well, spend it while you have it, and realize your life dreams. Pollan advises that the last check you write in your life should be to your undertaker and it should bounce.
I have recommended this book to many others and one part, in particular, is especially relevant to the notion of losing one’s job. In an economy and time where job security is a myth for most of us and where, as Pollan writes, “many white-collar, middle-class, college-educated folks are seeing their standards of living and prospects for employment drop” (P. 22), Pollan’s advice is to remember above all that it is “just a job”, “short-term is the only term” and that you should always be prepared to “jump ship” if something better comes along. He called it “quitting in your head” (P.26). I call it “what will I do if thinking?”.
Coming to grips with the idea that it could happen to you, I believe is an important first step toward the productive coping and adaptation process that losing one’s job requires. At a minimum, it lessens the likelihood of total surprise and it forces you to begin to explore — at least mentally — some realistic options. However, there are additional important steps one can take, especially when your suspicion of impending trouble has factual merit.
First, resist denial, an extremely powerful defense mechanism readily available to us all. Denial prevents constructive thinking and action which is critical in the near-term if our suspicions are accurate. Reality is always confronted more effectively head-on.
Second, seek someone at work you trust enough to confide in, who can provide some reality checking. Chances are if your suspicions are well grounded, you are not the only one on alert.
Third, never panic, another common human response that paralyzes the thinking process. Instead, develop a plan of action. Assuming you have considered alternative employment options — i.e. engaged in some prior “what will I do if thinking?” — begin to explore them more seriously. Discretion is always wise but be proactive and become your own advocate when it comes to changing jobs if required. This is the time to test the waters elsewhere.
Fourth, do not shut out your family and friends. I have known so many people over the years — mostly men but some women — who have, for a variety of reasons like false pride, tried to shield loved ones and friends from the troubles facing them. This is almost always a bad idea. It is times like this that we all need support to help us get moving and maintain our sense of mental and emotional balance. It is important in times of employment uncertainty to let those who care for us, care for us. Seek, listen to, and weigh carefully the advice of those who matter in your live.
Finally, unless for some reason you really deserve to lose your job, try your best not to take personally the prospect of temporary unemployment or the need to move on. This is not the time for feelings of persecution, self-pity, or losing your self-confidence. In the vast majority of cases, losing one’s job is not about the individual. Rather it is about a set of circumstances generally beyond that individual’s control.
Nothing I have said in this article can ease the emotional stress and daunting set of challenges associated with losing a job. But being in control of how you respond is far better psychologically and for your sense of self-esteem, than remaining in a passive, reactive mode.