The 5 Stages of Grief When Losing a Job

By Catherine Lang-Cline

At one time or another, everyone has the unfortunate opportunity of dealing with the 5 stages of grief. Typically this is connected to death, but it can really be applied to just about all kinds of loss. That includes the loss of a job. These are the 5 stages of grief applied to losing a job and how you can get past each one and get back on track with your career. I know all of these to be true because they have happened to me.

Denial – You have just left your boss’s office or the HR Director’s office and you absolutely cannot believe what just happened. You are stunned. You can’t comprehend that you are now standing at your desk and putting all of your office possessions in a box. You are asking yourself “why did I bring to much to work?” You are packing photos with the disbelief that you will have to tell these people you don’t have a job. “What just happened again? I didn’t just get asked to leave. This must be some mistake.” This is no mistake and you did just get fired. Regardless of how this has been decided, you are no longer employed here and you need to get out and get out fast. Your reputation is on the line and your dignity will quickly expire before you move on to…

Anger – Now you are in the parking lot. Denial may still be lingering but anger is quickly approaching because you gave 100% of yourself to this company! “I worked long hours! I gave up time with friends or family! How DARE THEY do this to me?!!” Thing is people get laid off all…of…the…time. It can be for just about any reason. It could be performance, trimming down of staff, resizing, and about 100 other reasons, but it happens. This time, it was your number that was drawn. Give yourself a moment or two to be angry but I will tell you that anger is not going to help you. Anger can turn into a prison. Don’t let this get to you because the longer you are angry they longer they have control of you. Don’t give them that! You stay in control by keeping cool. Still angry? Take a run, workout, go talk to someone that really cares about you to help sort out your thoughts. Want to bad-mouth your former employer? Trust me, you only look bad doing it. 

Bargaining – The last thing you want to do is call your former employer and try to strike up a bargain of some kind. “Hey, I am sure that was a mistake or if you bring me back I’ll do better. I’ll work for less!” Don’t be that person. If the situation has come to a point where HR has been called, paperwork has been filled out, and you have been asked to clean out your desk, chances are that this has been in the works for a while and there is no going back. Fun fact, keep moving forward and you won’t want to go back.

Depression – It is very normal to get a little depressed about this situation. For now, your identity seems to have been stripped, you have to file for unemployment, and let’s face it, that was a bit humiliating. Again remember that everyone has experienced this once in their lives. If this is your first time. Yeah, it hurts. If you have never been let go, you are either lucky or your turn is still coming. Give yourself the chance to feel a little depressed by this. Just a little. It is your right, but don’t let it consume you. If you find yourself binge-watching shows for more than 3 days in a row fine, but day 4 put on some real pants and get off the couch and get to….

Acceptance – This may take a day, a week, or a month. That time frame can probably be linked to how long that you have been at a company. Regardless of the time it takes, welcome to Acceptance, you made it. You can now plot your comeback! If you find that the road to get here was a challenge, let me clue you in on some shortcuts. 

  1. Really understand that people get fired every day.

  2. Understand that the company you left was probably not the best job for you and it was not the only job in the world.

  3. Take everything that you learned from that former company and update your resume, your LinkedIn and really plan your next role. Stay busy and get a plan together. At least for a while, your job is to get a job.

  4. When updating everything, really re-evaluate your skill set, your job title, everything based on everything you learned at your former employer. Where can you take those skills now? Who would pay you more for this? You might just be giving yourself a big promotion soon!

  5. Get out and get back with people in your industry. Connect with all of the people that understand your expertise. Connect with a recruiter. Ask everyone if they know who is hiring. Let them give you a little pep-talk as to how awesome you really are. People really do love to help. You don’t have to get into the circumstances just say, “Things changed at “X Company” and I am no longer there. I am seeing this as an opportunity to advance so if you hear of anything…”

Like I said, 3 days on the couch but then get back out there and get plugged back in. The most successful people have been fired or face-planted or failed at least once. Almost always when a person gets “kicked out of the nest” it was for their own good and it forced them to fly. Accept this “new and improved you” and soar.