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Grief is usually associated with the death of a loved one, but there are other areas of life in which loss results in grief that is just as real. One of these is being experienced more and more often due to the current trend of companies to "down-size." The majority of today's working population are likely to experience at least one job loss.

For many people today, there are two major phases of job loss. In past years, it was common for firings to be swift and merciless, but more and more companies are now providing a transition period. This is the period of time beginning with advance notification of job termination and ending with the actual job loss.

The "terminated" phase begins with the actual job loss, and unfortunately is still the only phase for many people. Even though the impact of actual unemployment can be lessened by a period of preparation, the grief process is still different for this phase. Many of the emotions do carry over, but the grief is more like that associated with the loss of a loved one. A way of life has ended, along with the security it provided.

Even when a person finds a replacement job before unemployment begins it doesn't totally eliminate the next phase. A new job still means a new environment, new people, and possible relocation. This often involves a pay cut, reduced benefits, and starting over at the bottom of the seniority ladder.

Beyond the loss of income, losing a job also comes with other major losses, some of which may be even more difficult to face:

  • Loss of your professional identity
  • Loss of self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Loss of your daily routine
  • Loss of purposeful activity
  • Loss of your work-based social network
  • Loss of your sense of security

Fear, depression, and anxiety will make it harder to get back on the job market, so it’s important to actively deal with your feelings and find healthy ways to grieve. Acknowledging your feelings and challenging your negative thoughts will help you deal with the loss and move on.

Suggestions for Managing Your Own Job-Loss Grief

Be open about what has happened to you. Don't be afraid to say, "I lost my job." You may be surprised at how many people you meet have had similar experiences.

Become part of a support group. It can be especially helpful to talk to (and listen to) a group of people who are in your situation. Often just finding out that there are others with your same concerns and fears can be a great help in dealing with those feelings.

Process your emotions. Admit your anger, fear, and frustrations to your support group, your family, and your friends. When you allow yourself to do this you are taking the first step toward managing your emotions instead of letting them control you.

Affirm yourself. You may feel guilty for letting your family down even though you know your job loss had nothing to do with anything you did. Or you may have missed out on a job opportunity that would have kept you employed.

Renew and deepen relationships. Your family, as well as your friends, can be a source of strength that is stronger than you realized. Having someone you can lean on and rely on can be crucial in times of trouble.

Maintaining or renewing spirituality can be just as helpful as your relationships with other people. Your personal beliefs can give you support even when other people are not available for support.

Keep your sense of humor. Laughter is as important to your health as physical exercise and a good diet. Learn to look for humor in everyday situations, especially things that happen to you. Learning to laugh at yourself is one of the best ways to have a healthy self-image.

Job loss and children

Children depend on their parents or guardians for emotional security. When adults are tense, upset, and inattentive, much of this feeling of security is gone. Communication is key when it comes to talking to children about job loss and how it will affect them.

Change in income can mean lifestyle changes for the entire family. There is less money to spend, so it is important to make decisions about spending what money is available. It also may mean a move to a new location to find employment, away from friends and extended family, school and familiar routines.

There may be less family time. Also the other parent may now need to work a second job, start work or pick up extra hours, which is more change.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Maintain household routines as much as possible.
  • Keep major changes to a minimum, although some may be unavoidable.
  • Help your children by helping yourself first.
  • Recognize symptoms of stress including: sleeplessness, digestive disturbances, headaches, angry outbursts, appetite changes.
  • Eat balanced meals and get enough rest and exercise to discharge energy.
  • Help children to focus on the positive aspects of their lives.
  • Help them to see that they are not the only family affected and perhaps they can talk with other families and find out how they are coping and what is helping them.
  • Reassure children by letting them know you're taking action and job hunting.
  • Involve children in helping out at home, with babysitting, household chores, but don't make them think they are responsible for supporting the family.
  • Be a model for your children on how to solve problems, how to deal with a crisis and how to make decisions.
  • Assure kids that losing jobs affects many people and that it is a temporary situation, not a major disaster.
  • Don't depend on your children for emotional support. Sharing too much can cause undue stress in them.
  • Spend time together doing low-cost or no-cost activities. Kids love down time with parents and just time to hang out.

Resources and references

Coping with job loss and unemployment

Surviving Tough Times: Accepting Your Feelings – Guide to recognizing strong feelings triggered by job loss and unemployment and dealing with them in positive ways. (The University of Georgia)

Tips for staying positive and focused during your job search

How to Survive a Layoff – Offers a ten-step to-do list for surviving a layoff. Includes tips for staying calm, finding support, and assessing your career goals. (The Washington Post)

The Laid Off Can Do Well Doing Good – Learn about the benefits of volunteer jobs for career development, emotional well-being, and networking. (The Wall Street Journal)

Adapted from Career Success Partners; HelpGuide; NYU Child Study Center, NY, NY; Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service.

Counseling: Grief & Loss