The Stages of Grief After Being Laid Off
The emotional roller-coaster of hearing “You’re terminated.”
A calendar invite for an agenda-less early morning meeting with my leadership team at an off-site location arrives in my email inbox. A sense of foreboding forms around me. To quote a little indie film franchise you’ve probably never heard of called Star Wars, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
My worst fear was realized when I received the news that my time at the company I’ve dedicated myself to for years was coming to an end.
In the 24 hours that followed after being laid off from the job I had loved, I experienced the five stages of grief — denial, depression, anger, bargaining, and acceptance.
Denial: “No, they can’t do that.”
When the bomb dropped, I felt myself shrink and sink into a disorienting abyss. I could faintly hear the leadership team explaining their reasoning for the termination (team restructuring… not at all performance-related…) and imparting the important information a departing employee needs to know (severance package… employment insurance… recommendations…). I glanced at my colleague beside me and willed myself to stay just as calm during this moment of turmoil. I could barely move, let alone make a sound to confirm I was taking in this information. I said nothing because to say something was to admit that this was really happening. Did I seriously come all the way here just to be shitcanned? This cannot be. God, help me.
Depression: “How could they do that?”
Once the initial shock wore off, my mind went into overdrive. I began running through everything I would miss about working for the company—the learnings, the challenges, the milestones, the daily grind, the coffee machine and beer-on-tap (can you blame me?), the penthouse office with a rooftop view, and most of all, the people.
Leaving behind the work crew, comprised of some of the most hard-working, fun-loving, passionate, talented, and inspiring badasses I know, is the hardest part of this whole ordeal. A montage of the unforgettable times we shared together played out in my memories — the brainstorming sessions, the lunchtime adventures, the inside jokes, the Giphy roulette hijinks over Slack, the high-five trains, the heart-to-hearts, and so much more. They became a second family to me and I don’t know how I will cope without seeing my dear friends every day, or ever again.
In my three years with the company, I had seen it develop and grow from a small startup to a full-scale business. As one of the early employees, I had attached a huge part of my identity to my role, so to have had my position eliminated and subsequently be let go in such a swift and immediate manner was devastating and disorienting.
At this low point, the insecurity and self-criticism set in. I felt like a loser, a failure, and a inadequate and dispensable being that lacks any qualities of value because then I wouldn’t be in this position, now would I?
When it comes to letting employees go, managers stress that it’s nothing personal, it’s just business. But no matter how it is spun, being no longer needed feels very personal.
Anger: “How dare they do that!”
Feeling sorry for myself soon transitioned into feeling resentful over how the whole situation went down. The nature of the dismissal was so abrupt, I could barely process what was happening as it was happening. Immediately following the talk, we were asked to turn in our keys, had whatever belongings we needed brought down to us from the premises as we waited outside the building, and had all access to our work accounts revoked — all within what seemed like the span of ten minutes. Not only was I getting evicted, but traces of me were being erased in real-time. I wondered what I did to warrant this harsh treatment.
I understand this way of administering layoffs and firings commonly occurs in the workplace. A quick termination process can be merciful during this delicate situation for both the departing employee and the bearer of the bad news. However, after three years of establishing a solid relationship founded on respect and trust with the team and giving my blood, sweat, and tears to my job, this felt like a huge, burning slap in the face. Even though I know the employer’s intention was not meant to be malicious towards the employee, it sure as hell felt that way.
I hate not being able to tie up loose ends from unfinished projects. I hate feeling as if my contributions were deemed inconsequential in the end. I hate not saying my proper goodbyes to my colleagues. I hate not having closure.
In time, I will get past this, but I won’t forget it. I will always question whether this style of dismissal was the appropriate course of action. If it were up to me, this choice was far from what I would have envisioned for my conclusion with the company, and frankly, I feel I deserved better.
Bargaining: “Maybe they wouldn’t have done that if I had only…”
In the weeks leading up to my dismissal, I had a feeling that a drastic turn was about to take place in my work life very soon. I could sense change in the air. Shifts in regards to the company’s direction and departments were alluded to in meetings, which led to me feeling uncertain in my position for the first time. I started to get suspicious when emails I had sent alluding to future plans were ignored and passwords for accounts I managed were changed over the weekend. A part of me knew the end was nigh, but it was too soon (and I was much too busy) for me to acknowledge it just yet. Then, it finally cumulated in my quick exit from a lifestyle I had grown accustomed to.
If only… If only I hadn’t denied the inevitable and had been mentally-prepared before the news hit me. Then maybe, just maybe, I would have spared myself from this awkward, humiliating, and undesirable experience. But I know that the reluctance came from the fear of losing so much of what I have become familiar and comfortable with, and therein lies the danger.
If anything, the most important lesson I learned is to never, ever settle. Looking back now, I was coming close to becoming too entrenched in my work and losing sight of further growth opportunities.
Loyalty is a key quality in a good employee, but when that starts to become your top motivation for being in your job, you need to start looking for avenues of advancement ahead of you. If you’re not growing, you’re limiting what you can achieve and what you can provide.
Acceptance: “Okay. They did that.”
It happened. It’s done. I wish the conclusion was written out differently, but the chapters in-between my humble beginning and the end have been incredible, and I owe great thanks to my employers, my team, and everyone I have met along the way.
Reflecting on the last three years, I wouldn’t change a damn thing. Between 2014 and now, I have gained a heightened confidence, a can-do attitude, an unwavering determination, and a vast flexibility that I have never possessed before. I have experienced the most enriching stage of professional and personal growth during the most formative years of my twenties. And there’s still a long way to go!
Now, this journey is the story I have to begin telling.
I am choosing to include the experience of being laid off in my career narrative. Job termination is too often seen as a taboo topic of discussion, although it is an experience shared by so many people in the working world.
In the hours following my termination, I went into a dark state of mind and knew I couldn’t, I shouldn’t be alone. I reached out to friends who had experienced the distress of losing a job. I got to vent and release my emotions, and in return, they gave me the encouragement and advice I desperately needed to steer me back on track. For that, I cannot thank them enough.
This stigma of shame needs to be broken down through the sharing of more tales of struggle and the eventual rise up after going through a job layoff. Everyone loves a good comeback story.
I am also choosing to use this time as a chance to explore new experiences and opportunities that I either haven’t pursued since working full-time or have thought about eventually perusing at a later time far off into the future. After a few weeks of self-reflection, vision-boarding, and binge-watching episodes of Orphan Black, I aim to start figuring out my next move. Maybe I will go right back into job-hunting. Maybe I will venture into freelancing. Maybe I will consider trying out an entirely new and different career path. Maybe I will throw caution to the wind and travel the world. Who knows? The view is limitless from here on out.
So, what’s next?
Elizabeth Rosalyn is a writer and poet from Vancouver, Canada. A lover of stories, she lives to explore and write about arts & entertainment, travel & culture, and people & community, all while sipping on a cup of earl grey tea and singing along to all genres of good music. She is one of the founding directors of the pop culture & lifestyle magazine, The Hudsucker. Visit her personal blog at Elizabeth Rosalyn.