Layoffs traumatic for many workers
By Mike Butts
When Micron Technology announced it would lay off 1,100 Boise, Idaho-area employees, it left many workers looking for new employment. And it left those same people looking for ways to cope with the emotional shock of a sudden job loss.
Psychologists say getting laid off can be one of the most traumatic events of a person's life.
"There's a correlation between losing a job and a death, particularly if you've had the job for a long time," says Boise licensed clinical social worker Ted Vollet. "You go through all the (same) feelings."
But with care and support, laid-off workers can keep their wits about them and take on the challenge of getting back on their feet.
When Boise freelance public relations writer Jamie Dillon, 32, was laid off two years ago from her communications director job at Webmillion.com, an online lottery, she was shocked.
"I was not expecting it at all and it was really hard to handle," Dillon says. "The first thing that comes across your mind is 'Why me? I was valuable and I still have a lot of work to do. How are they going to live without me?' "
Dillon said she spent a day feeling sorry for herself and then jumped into the hard work of looking for a new job.
Others don't bounce back as quickly. Some of the persistent feelings that workers who lose their jobs might experience are self-doubt, anger, depression, embarrassment and grief. And the loss of a person's sense of self often accompanies the loss of a job.
"Self-worth is so incredibly tied up in our work," says Boise State University assistant professor of psychology Tedd McDonald. "A major part of our identity is tied to what we're able to accomplish and what we're able to provide for ourselves and our families."
Falling out of touch
One of the best ways to maintain a sense of self-worth after the loss of a job is to stay in touch with the outside world. Because laid-off workers are sometimes embarrassed and no longer have jobs to go to, they often isolate themselves.
"If you've got a church, family or an organization of some type or club activities, stay connected to those people," Boise licensed clinical counselor Marjorie Bolles says. "It's not like those people can solve your problems, but it's contact. If people retreat, that compounds the problem."
It's also important for workers who have lost their jobs to keep things in perspective, to remember that they are more than just their jobs. Boise marriage and family therapist Roberta Crockett sometimes has her clients who have lost jobs assess their value outside of their careers.
"I have people write a personal résumé that looks at their strengths and what they bring as a person to their families, their communities, their church groups and to themselves beyond just their jobs," she says. "We put so much time into our work that sometimes we forget there's anything else to us."
Getting encouragement and support from family, friends or others also is key to coping with the loss of a job. Yet, laid-off workers sometimes lose part of their support systems along with their jobs.
"Friendship systems have a tendency to be tied up in our work, and a lot of that is our support network," McDonald says. "It's a time when we need our support system more than ever and a lot of that has just been fractured."
Coping with anger, sadness
Anger can be another typical reaction to losing a job.
"If you get caught up in the anger, you focus on that instead of taking action to improve your situation," Crockett says.
Some depression can be expected after the loss of a job. But counselors and psychologists say that if those feelings persist for several weeks, professional therapy should be considered.
With the loss of a job can also come self-blame and shame. But it is important for laid-off workers to realize most layoffs are due to economic climates and not individual performance.