When Your Employer Dumps You
In the summer of 2009, I was laid off from the worst job ever. My boss simply took me aside and let me know that the company had decided to let go of 18 people, and that I was one of them. Also, as a helpful side note, he let me know that he had never liked me, been consistently disappointed in my work, and had felt that the job was never a good fit.
He was right, the job and I were a terrible fit. From day one, it was clear that the company should never have hired me.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that this was the worst job I could imagine. My supervisors were cranky and irrational. Products were unreliable and had hundreds of versions. Hard work and good results were not rewarded, but brown-nosing certainly was. Obvious favoritism was rampant, with some employees barely working at all from remote locations, and others slaving away for hours in a large room with spotty air conditioning. Contractors were hired and fired seemingly at random, and the head honcho — well, he was a little odd, let’s just leave it at that. (See also: How to Survive (and Thrive!) in a Job You Hate)
I was certainly not at my best at this job. Truth be told, I stopped trying after a while.
Still, being laid off really felt like a punch to the solar plexus.
You Can't Fire Me Because I Quit!
I had never been let go of before. I always leave a job first. Sometimes I get bored, sometimes things aren’t working out, sometimes a contract is winding down or I can see that a company is struggling financially, and I put in my two weeks’ notice without any fuss.
And just like my career, in the world of dating, I'm always the one who ends a romantic relationship. I don't like to draw out failing romantic entanglements. When I see a relationship faltering, I usually call it like it is, severe the ties, and move on. This isn't to say that I'm not friendly with exes — I usually am. It's just that I usually initiate the process of breaking up when I realize that things are not what they should be.
Usually, honesty is the best policy. But then again, I’m usually the one who gets to be honest first.
Basically, my company dumped me. They broke up with me before I had a chance to break up with them, and it sucked. It was completely humiliating, made worse by the fact that the job had been so terrible. It was like dating a really awful, smelly guy and being publically dumped by him.
And once I was dumped, I behaved... well, pretty much the way I did the last time I was dumped, which was in college.
In a Divorce, One Side Gets the Friends
There were people at the company that I considered to be good friends — people I spent time with outside of the office, people who were friends with me on Facebook, people that I had traveled to visit, people I chatted with regularly. I didn't hear a peep from anyone once I was laid off. It was like I was dead.
When not a single coworker emailed or called to check on me after I was laid off, I unfriended all of them on Facebook. I fantasized about flattening the old boss's tires or egging the office windows. Unfortunately (or fortunately), my old office was on the fourth floor, and I can't throw anything that high. I stalked the company obsessively on LinkedIn, trying to find out who was hired to replace me, wondering what she had that I didn't. I snottily commented to friends that the new writer was, in fact, TOO GOOD for the company, and that she would surely see the error of her ways and soon depart for greener pastures. All of this while I was starting a new job, with new coworkers, at a company that I actually adore.
The thing is, a job is very much like a romantic relationship. There are complex emotional ties to everything that you do, and you have to work hard to maintain open, honest communication with your coworkers, supervisors, and charges. If you work eight hours a day like I do in an office, you spend more time with your coworkers than you do with your significant other. And just like romantic relationships, your relationship with your job can be abusive and horrible, hard to extract yourself from, and mentally and emotionally draining.
It’s also very easy to define ourselves by our work. I spend a third of my waking hours during the week at the office, so of course my job is a big part of me. Some people don't see their careers as an integral part of their person, but I do, and that puts me in a vulnerable position when I am out of work.
Romantic relationships can be similar. When you date someone for a long time, you come to see yourself as a part of a unit, as a couple, and your own identity can get swallowed up. Friends might make up cute, “Bennifer”-style monikers to refer to you. If that relationship ends, you find yourself suddenly alone, it might feel like half of your being has disappeared.
The Grieving Process
When a romantic relationship comes to an unexpected and sudden end, we usually allow ourselves a certain amount of grieving. Complaining to friends, listening to sad or angry music, burning pictures, and moping are all a tolerated part of the mourning process.
But we don't allow ourselves the same kind of grieving process when we are laid off or fired, even though the pain of separation might be just as acute. The shock can be nearly overwhelming, and the time it can take to feel normal again might be longer than you'd expect. It took me almost a year to feel confident and whole after being laid off, and I still can't bring myself to fill my workspace with personal objects, just in case I am once again given a cardboard box and an hour to clear out.
However, just like being dumped by a complete loser, being dismissed from a terrible job was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I immediately found a job with amazing supervisors and a fulfilling role at a great company. I learned a great deal about work relationships and how to keep a healthy distance from coworkers while still enjoying friendship with the people I work with.
What got me through it? Here are a few tips for getting over being dumped by an employer.
Things to Deal With Right Away
- Go ahead and admit that your feelings are hurt. You don't have to tell the world, but admit to yourself that it stings.
- Don't try to figure out what you could have done differently, unless you are doing so as a part of an interview question for your next job. If you take your mistakes from the last job and learn from them, great. If you are replaying that badly received presentation to the Chicago group over and over in your head, you're probably not getting anywhere. You will need to move on.
- Acknowledge that the situation feels totally unfair. After all, they didn't fire that doofus Jeb in Accounting, and he sleeps at his desk for hours every day. Layoffs are not always about the most valuable employees being kept and the complete idiots being dropped; layoffs are about saving money, about petty politics, and about your vindictive boss replacing you with his niece.
- You can allow yourself to wallow in ice cream and late-night TV for 48 hours, max.
Things to Not Waste Your Time On
- Assigning blame; it doesn't matter that it was Sue's fault for not getting those reports to you on time. The relationship is over, and it can’t be changed.
- There are a hundred reasons why former coworkers aren't calling to commiserate. Don't bother trying to find out why Mary Beth never phoned. Wait a few months, unfriend people from Facebook if you have to, and spend time on the people who matter to you.
- Don't spend hours discussing your misery with friends and family. You can only talk about it with them so much before they tune you out.
- Keep written rants to yourself. There are lots of websites out there now that allow you to anonymously complain about how badly you were treated by a former employer. While it can be tempting to jump on the "This company was so BAD" bandwagon, it's really easy to accidentally identify yourself through that forum. If you want to compose angry poetry about your stupid former boss and how bad he looked with that mustache, do it by hand, in pen, and feel free to burn it when you're ready to get over the pain.
- In the same vein, don't post "I HATE COMPANY XYZ, INC. THEY SUXXORS" all over Facebook or LinkedIn — you think new employers won't be trying to check out your online profiles? They will. Public dignity with the split is the key here. When you let people know that you are looking for work, it's OK to admit that you are bummed, but keep the crying to yourself and try to come across as upbeat as possible.
- Stay away from daytime television.
Ways to Cope
- Find the music that helps you express your rage and pain and listen to it at home or while out on a jog. For me, Rancid was really helpful.
- Instead of a personal makeover, consider a resume makeover. Hey, if you're willing to spend a couple hundred bucks on a new suit or highlights, it can help to get a professional resume writer to give your resume a facelift of sorts.
- Remember that the longer you allow yourself to be controlled by your pain, the more power you are giving to your former employer. The best revenge is success, but it probably won't happen immediately.
- There are two things you can do at no cost to yourself that will help you feel better: Read as much as you can get your hands on (free books and magazines at the library) and exercise (even if you just walk around your city for hours, with no particular destination in mind). Read and exercise, read and exercise, and you will find yourself smarter and fitter and all around happier.
How did you cope emotionally with being laid off? Did you feel like your heart had been stomped on?