Five Stages of Personal Recovery After Losing A Job

There are three major stressful events in life: divorce, the death of a loved one and losing one’s job. If you are one of the three million who have lost their jobs since this recession began then you no doubt understand how this event can affect all aspects of your life.

How you respond and how long you suffer depends on many factors including the support you get at home, the prospect of finding another job at your pay level, and your own ability to heal yourself.

In 1969 Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote the groundbreaking book “On Death and Dying. Her work focused on those suffering from a terminal illness, but the psychological process she described was so fundamental to those suffering any type of loss, that her work has now been applied to a wide range of situations where people have suffered catastrophic events in their lives. Since job loss is certainly one of those events it is useful to relate her work to your situation.

With some variation from Kubler-Ross’ work, here are the five stages as they apply to job loss.

Disbelief. The first stage occurs immediately after you are told that you no longer have a job. There is a sense of disbelief that this could happen to you. While downsizing might be a widespread practice and while most people in the workplace probably know of many people who have lost their jobs, it still comes as a shock when it happens to you. One explanation is that we still expect our companies to shelter us from the competitive and often ruthless world of economics and competition. The company is our sanctuary. A Reduction in Force breaks through any denial. And if you are fired you no longer lose the santity of your organization, you are totally out and on your own.

Anger. In the second stage most of those who lose their job become angry. They are angry toward the company for firing them. They are angry because they feel that the company could have chosen other alternatives. They are angry because the company had kept them in the dark and they had no warning that this was coming.

Bargaining. At this stage many of those who find themselves without a job begin to bargain. Some may try to bargain their way back into the company. Most are forced to give up activities that have been important in the past. They cut back on their purchases, eat out less often, pay off their bills.

Depression. When their economic plight finally sets in, when it becomes clear that they will have to look for another job, when it becomes clear that jobs are difficult to obtain, when it becomes clear that there are few ways out, many may suffer from different degrees of depression. For some, it may be hard to get out of bed in the morning. Looking for work may be an impossible task, especially if that individual had been working at the same company for years. Eating patterns may change. Falling and staying asleep may become more difficult. And worries about financial security may be substantial. Some may even blame themselves for letting this happen and wonder how they might have done things differently to have prevented this outcome.

Acceptance and Recovery. In the final stage of this process, these victims of job loss will begin to accept the new situation. They understand that losing a job in times like this was not their fault. They come to terms with what has happened and during this stage their attitude begins to improve. They start writing a resume, networking, and looking for a new job.

Hopefully, understanding that these stages are normal can provide some comfort as we work our way out of this economic tragedy. And by understanding these stages we can help others in their journey.

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