Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are the five stages of looming layoffs. We’ve all been through this full range of emotions in our working lives, especially those of us who have been laid off or lived with the rumors of layoffs at our workplace.
Denial – “I’ll never get laid off, my job is too important,” we tell ourselves. Or there’s always the “I do something nobody else in their right mind would ever want to do,” excuse. Either way, it simply isn’t true. When push comes to shove and the music stops there’s only so many places in each company for people to sit down and lately those places have gotten fewer and fewer at American companies.
Anger – At one point or another we all rage at the company that is laying off so many of our friends and colleagues. How could those millionaires lay off so many of us thousand-aires just to make the bottom line look good for Wall Street? Or there’s always the theory that “so-and-so is the boss’s favorite, he/she is golden, they’ll never get laid off.”
Truth is, the millionaires really don’t care about the anger of the thousand-aires in the trenches, and yes, like it or not, bosses have been known to play favorites. And while anger is a natural and healthy emotion in these uncertain times, it really does little good over the long haul. Those who you want to hear you can’t, don’t or won’t.
Bargaining – At some point we all bargain with the powers – real and imagined – that hold our fate in their hands. We tell ourselves, “if only I can stick it out until the kids are through college, I will live on cat food and Tic Tacs for the rest of my days.” Pick your milestone. Usually there is no quid-pro-quo. Bargaining will temporarily lull you into false confidence, but you’re better off using your energy to form a plan of action that has real steps to help you weather the tide of layoffs.
Depression – I see so many of my former colleagues in the media living under the specter of being laid off. Even though things appear to have leveled off a bit in the journalism world as the general economy slogs its way to recovery, the ghost of layoffs past, present and future still haunt everyone who I used to call a co-worker.
Depression and the stress related to layoffs is an emotion that hides just beneath a layer of occupational hopelessness in many industries today. Despite an apparent upturn in employment many workers are cautious while they wait to exhale and draw in the warmth breath of fiscal stability.
Acceptance – At some point we all realize that what is going to happen is going to happen. We’ve all seen extremely talented folks in every occupation be cast aside due to downsizing, outsourcing, industry shutdowns or living past their prime.
But there is also a peace that comes with acceptance. Peace in the knowledge that you did your best. Peace in knowing that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, and you will be the same hard worker that you were the day before, the same father, the same friend, the same human being. Peace in knowing that every job — regardless of how large or small — is worth doing well and the only one judging you is you.
Students of psychology will recognize these as the five stages of grief that were spelled out in 1969 by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book “On Death and Dying.” Her hypothesis holds that not all people facing death or extreme life-altering experiences will feel each of these emotions or in any certain order.
My hope with this post is to let you know you’re not alone. We all face fears in our lives — whether it’s the threat of a layoff or simply the great unknown — and it’s OK if you are feeling any or all of these emotions. It simply means you’re human.