When you experience the loss of a job or other, major workplace change, there are many similarities to the stages of grief and loss. Learn more about the four tasks you must complete in order to move past a painful job loss.
Whenever there is a change, there is loss, and loss always brings about some degree of grief reaction. We usually associate grief with the loss of a loved one through death, but we all know that grief comes from many other sources. Not only do we mourn the loss of people, we grieve the loss of intangibles, such as self-image, dreams, hopes, health and any kind of broken bond.
The meaning of “death” has currently been expanded to mean the end of something we have always known it to be. This is the loss that comes with change. Grief is a set of reactions to loss or the threat of loss. It includes feelings, attitudes and behaviors that exist over a period of time. The nature of the reactions vary, as well as the amount of time they persist.
The Cycle of Change
- Impact. Shock, confusion, helplessness, anger, trying to define what is gone, paralysis of effective action.
- Crisis. Peak of distress, threat of the unknown, full awareness that we cannot return to the security of our former state, the “old is gone and we cannot see the “new” yet. This is the longest and most uncomfortable stage.
- Adjustment. Assessing the damage to life patterns, learning to fit our personal needs to the new environment. Reorganization occurs and things begin to balance out.
- Reconstruction. Adaptation occurs, behavior is modified to suit the new environment and confidence returns.
How the Change Cycle Relates to Stages of Grief & Loss
In this first stage of grief, we experience disbelief, shock and numbness. Denial is a way for the mind to defend or protect itself from painful feelings, so it serves an important function — to divert the reality of the loss so we have time to gather our inner strengths.
Loss stirs feelings of rejection, abandonment or helplessness. Often hidden in the anger is fear (anxiety). Fear of the unknown is very common in the grief reaction, and since we don’t like to feel afraid, we turn our fear into anger.
This stage can involve feelings of shame, guilt or remorse. People question their “part in change.” Maybe they think they didn’t work hard enough and bargain to do better. We always need to remember that layoffs, for example, are due to economic conditions and management decisions beyond our control.
Change can bring about a real sense of “death.” Loss of people, work routines, and a sense of control actually disrupt a part of our identity. Once the shock and anger wear off and we realize bargaining won’t reverse things, depression can set in. The depression varies in intensity among individuals and can be physical (fatigue, muscle aches, upset stomach) and emotional (sadness, hopelessness).
This final stage of grief is adjusting to the inevitable and moving on. The old way may be “dead,” but you are not. Because acceptance is primarily an intellectual state, emotional acceptance comes later. Our affairs may be in order but we are not necessarily happy about it.
Because of the myriad of feelings involved in this grief reaction, job performance can suffer and behavior can become disruptive. There may be increases in absenteeism, accidents, errors, lack of effort or motivation, an avoidance of work, resistance to new tasks or procedures, and pervasive negativity and critical attitudes.
Distress Symptoms Related to Workplace Change and Loss
- Feeling tense, anxious, sad, frightened
- Increased irritability
- Feelings of boredom
- Indecisiveness / confusion
- Distraught over trivial matters
- Lack of concentration / increased distractibility
- Perception of oneself as helpless and unable to act
- Increased procrastination (from feeling overwhelmed)
- Feelings of persecution
- Increased forgetfulness
- Inability to organize self and work
- Inner confusion about duties or roles
- Feelings of inexplicable dissatisfaction
- Loss of trust
- Negative expectancies of the future
- Sleep and appetite disturbances
- Social withdrawal / isolation
- Physical reactions such as tightness in the chest / throat, oversensitivity to noise, shortness of breath, muscle weakness, fatigue, dry mouth
Four Tasks We Need to Complete in Mourning the Loss of a Job
1) Accept the reality of the loss.
This means facing the fact that how it was is over, and things will never be the same. Completing this task involves talking about the value of what has been lost and trying to find something you can connect with in the new environment.
2) Experience the pain and other feelings of grief.
Discuss you feelings with someone you trust. The sounds of grief are the sounds of healing, whether it be tears or anger. Don’t minimize your pain and sense of loss. It’s a “pay now or pay later” task. Completing this task involves listening to each other and offering help and support at work.
3) Make necessary changes.
If you do this for the new work situation, adaptation will be much easier. Find out how you can “fit in” to the new environment (skills, coworkers, equipment) in order to increase your sense of control. Completing this task involves learning as much as you can about the new situation. Identify and learn any new methods, skills, tasks, procedures, work routines in order to get the job done.
4) Develop a new work identity.
Try to reorganize your view of the workplace and establish new goals for yourself. Begin making some informal social contacts and forming new bonds. Look at ways to meet some personal needs and to create new forms of personal recognition. In other words, invest more of your energy in the new. Relocate emotionally and move on.
If you live in Akron or Canton, Ohio, and are having problems getting through a cycle of change in your life, Mercy Concern Professional Counseling can help. Learn more >>