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Donít Let Downsizing Defeat You

by Anita Perez

Reductions in workforce have become commonplace in our culture. But no matter how many tales we hear of layoffs, reorganizations, mergers, and downsizing, we are never fully shielded from the impact of an ax swinging in our direction. According to the U.S. Department of Laborís Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers laid off 171,088 American workers in October alone. Add them to millions of others whoíve gone before them, and we would not exaggerate if we called this condition an epidemic.

People respond to their unemployed status in a number of ways. Some are optimistic, picking themselves up, brushing themselves off, and aggressively beginning their campaign for a new position. Others spend some time licking their wounds and rehashing the details and the downfall of their department before they find the courage to go back out into the world of work. Still there are others who become completely paralyzed by fear and anguish. Is there a right way to react to the sudden loss of your social and financial security?

Letís talk about the optimist. He looks at his pink slip and sees a ticket to a new and exciting future. His glass is half-full, never half-empty. He reassesses his wants and desires and broadens his search to include opportunities in other fields of interest. He goes on a number of interesting interviews and soon lands a new job with a great company. And the good news is that he terminates his unemployment long before unemployment terminates him and he never once touched his severance package. Mr. Optimism soon discovers that he doesnít have the authority he thought he had and when he tries to discuss the matter with his director, he is met with evasiveness and ambiguity. To him, this hazy environment begins to feel much like the one that preceded his previous employerís reorganization and subsequent mass layoff. But itís not the old company Ė itís a new one. Mr. Optimism overreacts one time too many and within a couple of months is unemployed, again.

Then there are the Wound-Lickers. They are hurt and they know it. They were devoted to their employer and they fully embraced the organizationís corporate culture. Interviewers are put off by their single-mindedness and the tears that well up in their eyes. Without their position, they are lost Ė and they donít hide it very well. Friends and family members who were so eager to listen during those first couple of weeks, now avoid them at all costs. Desperate for a sympathetic ear, Wound-Lickers pull out the old department roster and begin calling each other to commiserate and renew their negative energy. Most pull themselves up their bootstraps and get on with life at some point. But a few, sink a dangerous low.

The affects of a sudden loss, including a job loss, can spiral some into a danger zone. (Anyone with signs of clinical depression should seek the advice of a mental health professional.) Feelings of guilt, shame and inferiority can creep in and become crippling. Former employees with this degree of suffering may not have the self-motivation to take the steps necessary to free themselves. Caring friends can suggest support groups or individual counseling.

These are just a few examples of the many complex responses to job loss. When youíve been loyal to an organization and find yourself unexpectedly unemployed, anger is a common reaction. Hiding behind that anger, youíll often find emotions like hurt and fear. These are natural reactions to the assault that youíve suffered. Your self-esteem, your self-confidence, and your financial security have all been attacked. Your body produces these emotions so you can protect yourself. But when they fester and you begin to exhibit signs of bitterness and insecurity, you can become your own enemy.

Five Tips for Renewing Yourself after Job Loss

1. Admit that you are hurt and allow yourself to heal. Take advantage of your employerís transition assistance program. Join a support group. Talk to a life coach. Get counseling. Donít let your pain turn into bitterness or insecurity.

2. Release your anger. No matter how hard you try to keep your game face on, if youíre still angry with your former employer, the person who is interviewing you for the next opportunity will know it. Donít give your former employer that kind of power over your future prosperity.

3. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Self-doubts will eat away at your confidence and impair your perception of your own abilities. Give yourself credit for your accomplishments and donít knock yourself for not being able to single-handedly save your company or department.

4. Nurture yourself. Remember: garbage in, garbage out. Listen to uplifting music. Read empowering materials. Talk to encouraging people. Take responsibility for how you feel by doing things that make you feel good.

5. Explore your interests. Ask yourself what it is that youíd really like to do for a living. Then, do it. Up until now, youíve done what you had to do. Perhaps itís time to do what you want to do. Trust that the desire has been placed inside of you for a reason and go for it.

Itís possible that you can accomplish any or all of these things on your own. But if youíre stuck, you might want to consider partnering with a friend, a coach, a career counselor or, if necessary, a therapist. You donít have to go it alone. In fact, having someone to help you to identify your blind spots, make recommendations and hold you accountable will pull you out of your slump much more quickly.

© 2002

Anita Perez is a career strategist and life coach who specializes in working with executives in transition. Visit her web site at She can be reached via email at or by telephone at 215-369-4060.


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