When Your Employer Dumps You

By Andrea Karim on 11 June 2010 (Updated 7 June 2011) 17 comments
Photo: Zack Sheppard

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.

Personal Identity

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?

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Guest's picture
Guest

Yes, I gree with you. One is never fully aware how much emotionally he is tied to ones job untill he is dumped. I personally cannot say that I was dumped, but still I was 'dissapointed' quite hard by my employer in a number of situations. And it always hurts.

My advice:
- always stay fully aware that these are evil corporations and that all the persons working are just faceless slaves of these evils. Whatever they do is meant to suck out of you every piece of energy you have for as little cost as possible. Always have it in mind when they give you 'freebies', or organize you your afterwork life. All these activities are ment to 'economise' on the wages - aka have as much performace from staff for less.

- have another life with which you identify more. Be it music, sport, hobby or family, NGO, politics, whatever - always say you are a musician, father/mother or anything else first before you say where you make money.

- never put yourself in a trap when it is not you who is controlling the situation. Always follow the market and be aware what is goint out there. Then jump to whoever is willing to pay you more at the moment and never, ever feel sory about it, but alsways akt in a stoistic, kind and professional way. In simple words: act like a corporation yourself.

-

Andrea Karim's picture

It also helped me to realize just how happy I was to no longer work in such an abusive environment! Just like a bad relationship, sometimes you forget that anything can be better until you've found something better.

Guest's picture
Samurai

Andrea, I enjoyed your post. It really is good you got dumped by a bad employer because it served as a wake up call for you do take action in the future, and not accept mediocrity.

Good tips on how to deal with a job loss. Given your frequent referral do dating, what would you say to someone who postulates that you are looking for real life love and are frustrated having not found it yet?

Andrea Karim's picture

I would say that that person doesn't know me very well. ;)

Guest's picture
guest

A nearly identical situation happened to me in my first job after college, except that I got fired. This was for an ad agency in a major city. I did my job well, but I didn't hide my feelings when I felt that people with more seniority were being inconsiderate. For example, a superior would tell me to instantly drop the task I was doing, to do something he needed to have done "now." So I did that task, only to see him head out the door on his lunch break.
So I got fired for a poor attitude. I was immediately shocked and upset to be fired, not seeing this termination coming. I packed up my stuff and left humiliated, shocked and upset. But I was also embarrassed and didn't want family and friends to know I had been fired. So literally within hours, I started working on looking for a new job. I brushed up my portfolio and pulled together a resume, and started making phone calls to set up appointments. I worked my way through the yellow pages. With each call, I made an index card. I wrote on it the name and number of the ad agency, and the result of the call. For example, I wrote down if the phone was busy, if the art director was out to lunch, if I had an appointment, and so on. This way I was able to make the most contacts, and keep all these agencies straight. I made looking for work my full-time job. If there was one opening in the hundred agencies in town, I was going to find it. Within a week I had full-time work at a job that was better and paid more than the job I had left.
The point of this article, however, was how to emotionally cope. In this case, and generally whenever I have an upsetting problem, I feel better as soon as I start working on a solution. Within hours my whole emotional state changed, and I was looking forward, not back. It was really empowering.
Radio personality Dr. Laura has a saying, "Do the behavior, the feelings will follow." I believe in the truth of this. People often wait around for feelings to motivate them to action. Instead, she says, just start doing the behavior, and before long you will actually feel like doing it. In this case, there are specific steps one can take to finding a new job. Just by taking constructive steps to get the process going, you will feel better about being terminated and more motivated to take the next step.

Guest's picture
Guest

Employees have never been assets to companies. Payroll costs are literally "liabilities" on the spread sheet. Moreover, today's employers are moving more and more to the "1099" model, where the employee becomes a sub-contractor, and as such, receives zero company benefits, and is responsible for all taxes, including the percentage of Social Security that the employer is otherwise required to chip in. When you work for someone, you need to consider that you are on borrowed time. You are there solely at his or her pleasure and whim. Florida, a so-called "right-to-work" state, is one of the worst states for employees, because unions are virtually powerless, and businesses more often successfully file claims against unemployment benefits

Guest's picture
Guest

I could really relate to this story, even though I haven't been sacked yet, because I've worked at a job I hated. How did you handle the situation of maybe needing a reference for your next job? It doesn't sound like your boss would have written a very good one!

I find the prospect of needing reference after my current job (where I'm not doing so well) really frightening.

Andrea Karim's picture

I had other references from other jobs, luckily.

Julie Rains's picture

You've hit on a common but false assumption about being..."released" -- sometimes it is the best employees who are let go rather than the worse; sometimes it is the most average-est employees who are hired and stay on forever rather than the stellar ones. Who you've worked for, where you've faltered (b/c of ineptitude on others' part), and where you've excelled is revealing, and interestingly (this is based on my encounters with jobseekers) being fired from certain places = being a valuable employee.

After going through a merger with a so-so employer and then hearing about a possible acquisition for a really lousy employer, I thought "there's no way I'm going to be let go from a terrible company at a lousy job" -- fortunately, I found my way out before anything happened, and years before the company went bankrupt.

I think most people's self identity are tied to their professions, at least in the USA -- not that I think they should be; but I love the cocktail party opener and will plan on coming up with some version of that for myself.

Guest's picture
Lisa

My spouse has had this happen to him twice- he worked 60+ hours/wk and ran his department very well. He was liked by his employees but was let go due to downsizing from the company. He did not receive any severance package and was told he had medical benefits until the end of the month. We had 2 infants at the time and he was crushed over losing his job and distraught over what all of this meant to the family. He exercised daily and I did my best to console him everyday, but it didn't work. I worked part-time for minimum wage as much as I could. He contacted a recruiter and went on interviews. We calculated how much we had in savings to see how long we could stay in our place until we were homeless. After several months, he found a job and we sold everything to move out of state for that job. A couple years later, it happened again. This time, though, the kids were older and I worked more. He worked 2 jobs for a while before this happened and the second job pulled through by letting him work full-time. Mentally, we were in better shape. Within 2 weeks, he got another job. Currently, he still works 2 jobs and there is word that his job will close down his facility. So, we may face this again! Since we have gone through this before, we have made sure that we have a decent savings account and a home that has increased in value. We don't have any debt (except mortgage) and can brave this storm again. No matter how good an employee you are, it is up to the company to determine your value. And to hard-working people, that is a tough concept to grasp. We always thought that good workers were rewarded! Unfortunately, that's not always the case. In our case, we learned that it was not anyone's fault that the company downsized, exercise can help us vent, finding work of any kind helps financially and mentally and calling a recruiter can be your best defense. Since job stability is a thing of the past, we have to have some type of plan. That way, it can help lift us from our feelings of despair.

Andrea Karim's picture

Hi, Lisa,

That sounds like a really lousy experience. I am really sorry to hear that you have to go through this so many times. I really do admire your gumption, though. You are definitely in my thoughts; I hope the next set of layoffs don't take place.

-Andrea

Guest's picture
Lisa

Hi Andrea~
It was very tough to go through that situation twice..Now that we may face it again, I decided to try to help him out by working my regular retail job AND work for free (internship) at a medical building.
I have been doing this internship for 6 weeks now and HOPE they will hire me in 6 more weeks. If not, I am hoping they put their name on my resume' so I can get a job in this field. All I did was ask this facility if I could intern for them and they agreed! And so far, we all get along really well. Even if it doesn't work out in my favor, I still have my retail job.
Thanks for your good thoughts! I want to tell anyone who has been let go by their employer that sometimes it can be a good thing and other times, it can be devastating. But don't give up. Sometimes, the employers have their own internal drama and it's best to try not to get wrapped up in it. Just keep pressing forward and something good is bound to come your way!

Guest's picture

I saw my firing from a mile away, but was still shocked when it happened. My manager spent 3 months making a case to get rid of me and I spent 3 months trying to plug every hole she made in the proverbial dam. Two weeks before she got rid of me, the president of the company praised my work ethic, but she claimed I had a 'performance issue'.

How did I cope? Going to the gym helped. Having an incredibly supportive husband helped. Mostly, though, I decided to promise myself that this time in between jobs would not be wasted. I've lost 11 pounds, joined a book group, visited family, started a blog, collaborated on a book, put in a garden and had knee surgery.

Don't get me wrong, money's tight and thank goodness we don't have kids and can still afford the mortgage. Given those two items in the 'pros' column, I have done my best to take full advantage of these 7 months and hopefully, in a couple more months I'll be pursuing my bachelor's degree or gainfully employed and looking back on this unemployed first year of marriage (we're calling it an extended honeymoon) fondly.

Guest's picture
sewingirl

Sometimes being fired is just a relief! I had already been quietly job hunting for a few months when my nasty, abusive boss fired me for being "snotty" to her on the phone. Please. I hung up on her after she spent 10 minutes screaming at me about the job schedule (which I had NOTHING to do with). I spent 6 months getting some more training, and now have the best employer I could imagine!

Guest's picture
Guest

I have that job now and I think they are plotting to fire me. good article thanks.

Guest's picture
Natalie

Well-written article...one I could relate to :(

Guest's picture

Look at the bright side - all this time you have available to spend with the people you love! You may as well find a way to earn income doing what you most love and enjoy doing and that way you do not even get tired and enjoy each day!
I know I found that and love it.
Making money doing what you love and being able to be with your family all the time was the best thing that happen to me.