The key to successfully recovering emotionally from a layoff begins with applying triage to what is, for most people, an unexpected and very unsettling event. The loss of a job can be exceptionally traumatic on several levels, and each of those levels needs evaluation. The most difficult part of the emotional triage process is the initial assessment of what the layoff means, not so much in obvious terms such as the dependence on revenue, but more along the lines of an understanding of the objective relationship between person and profession. Other triage steps include the need to stem the emotional impact of the layoff before it becomes incapacitating, applying cold rational reasoning to the situation, and taking an honest inventory – lessons learned – from the layoff experience.
In today’s corporate world, the stigma of falling victim to a layoff is not the career black mark that it was in years gone by. With the advent of an educated international workforce coupled with gains in productivity through automation and a general downturn in the global economy, layoffs have expanded into almost all areas of professional enterprise. This has completely changed the nature of the person-to-profession relationship as understood in previous decades. Human beings tend to put a great deal of emotional capital into their work, and as such will often define themselves by what they do for employment. The phrases ‘I am an engineer’ or ‘I am a software developer’ not only identify a career field but those phrases, by using the word ‘am’, convey a sense of self definition and ownership. The problem with this level of attachment to, and emotional investment in a job is that the relationship with the corporation may be more one-sided than the employee is aware. Business is a bottom line enterprise. With comparable resources now abundant across the globe, the corporation is not bound by geography when it comes to staffing concerns. The old adage of “don’t take it personally, it’s just business” has more relevance today than ever before. However, this is probably the most difficult part of the recovery from a layoff. Given the emotional capital invested over the years, it is often difficult for employees to realize that the layoff, in all likelihood, had nothing to do with the individual. It was an objective assessment by the corporation, which weighed the labor performed against the associated overhead. This conflict between negative emotions and rational understanding has to be reconciled as part of the recovery process. It is, unfortunately, probably the most difficult aspect of putting the relationship, and the layoff, into perspective.
As devastating as a layoff can be, it is important that the emotional impact does not rise to such a level that it would incapacitate the individual. It is natural to grieve the end of the relationship. However, it is important that the individual is able to compartmentalize their feelings move forward. A difficult aspect of managing the emotional recovery is applying a conscious effort to avoid harboring an overwhelming sense of resentment, anger, or betrayal. Emotions can sabotage the recovery process, as they often reveal themselves in unintended ways. As an example, body language, and tone of voice, particularly in a high-tension setting such as an interview, could send the wrong message if the subject of the layoff is discussed. Sufficiently managing the emotional impact of the layoff negates the risk of a bad, and critical, first impression.
Another part of the triage process is an objective reassessment of the overall employment situation. How an individual feels about their employment is a component of their defining self worth. If an individual is involved in work that they perceive to have value, aside from monetary compensation, their level of emotional connection to their job is even stronger. In this instance, a layoff can be extremely devastating. However, if an individual is performing labor that is not intellectually or emotionally satisfying, a layoff could be considered a positive event. An objective reassessment of the work performed can often help reduce the emotional impact associated with a layoff, in that it affords the individual an opportunity to consider higher-level characteristics of their profession. By examining the entire employment situation, taking an inventory of pros and cons, the emotional impact of the layoff is lessened as the individual can now focus on employment that is more satisfying on more than just a monetary level.
One of the final parts of emotional recovery is to consolidate the lessons learned from the layoff experience and retain it for future purposes. Working for one company for a lifetime and collecting the funded pension…that ship has sailed. The layoff itself is a valuable experience and can provide a wealth of do-and-don’t information for the next time an employee comes to the brutal realization that the tired old line ’employees are our most valuable asset’ does not mean that just because it’s valuable, that it can’t be replaced.