Given the current waves of layoffs with more to come, I wanted to talk about the importance of owning and acknowledging the grief that can come with a layoff.
This may seem odd, but I always ask if congratulations or condolences are in order. In some cases, a professional might actually feel relieved after a layoff, especially if they have been waiting for the ax to fall for months (or years).
Or, perhaps they have wanted to make a change and didn’t have the support of their partner, or hesitated to mess up a good thing. (You’ve heard about those golden handcuffs.)
Other times, professionals are devastated.
However, they may feel a little sticky about this, believing they should just suck it up and move on.
In ten years of career transition coaching, my experience is that failing to respect that something has been lost and taking time to grieve can lead to stress, overwhelm, and mental and physical health issues.
If you loved your job, something you loved has died, and it is appropriate – and necessary – to grieve this loss of income, situation, and potentially identity.
Let me share my job-loss heartbreak story as an example.
Twenty years ago, I started my job at Arthur Andersen, which was the best job I ever had. For the first time in my career, I was working with professionals I respected and admired, and in an organization where I felt like I fit.
I’d always felt like an outsider in my previous jobs, even as I worked with great colleagues, many of whom became (and still are) personal friends.
Arthur Andersen felt like home from my first day. My manager was brilliant and a strong leader, and my team was close. We did valuable work I was truly proud of – the best of my career.
On my 40th birthday in 2002, my team decorated my cube with glitter, balloons, cards, and cupcakes. My manager took us out for a fancy lunch and champagne.
After that, everything changed.
It became clear that Arthur Andersen would not survive the indictment (that was overturned in a record-short deliberation by the Supreme Court years later, by the way).
The 90-year-old company I loved went out of business in six weeks.
I was – and remain – heartbroken.
My heartbreak is on public record, published in the Letters to the Editor in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, April 11, 2002: “Today Is the Day We Lose Our Jobs.”
Today is Monday, April 8, 2002. Today I will get fired from Arthur Andersen, along with several thousand other people. Actually, the terms they use are “rightsized” or “downsized.” The result is the same — today I will lose my job.
I always made fun of the “core values” that Andersen had in its marketing materials. In the end, however, I saw people living them just as it said in the brochures. We did each other’s resumes and we sent around recruiters’ numbers and links to job-hunting sites. We pulled together like the team we had always been. Partly out of habit, but more out of love. Over and over I heard people say that they wished we could stay together. Our internal bickering ceased as we remembered the bonds of working together on projects, late nights spent trying to meet deadlines, and so many celebrations after jobs well done.
For the first time in many years, I felt that I fit in at a company. Like many others, I had hoped to finish my career at Andersen. There are so many people here who have never worked anywhere else. Who would have thought this could happen at a boring old accounting firm?
A principal from New York said it best. She said, “In my thirty years in the business, this is by far and away the best group of people that I have ever worked with.” I agree. I wish you could have seen my Andersen.
If your heart is broken from losing your job, I get it.
If you find yourself wondering who you are without your position at your previous company, you’re not alone.
If you find yourself grieving for something you lost, give it space and acknowledge that something WAS lost.
Take the time you need, and then move forward with your job search.
You won’t be able to properly evaluate your right next step if you haven’t healed at least a little.
And you don’t want to burn through your network before you are ready to make your best impression.