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The Worst Way to Lose Your Job

Updated on September 29, 2014

Have You Ever Lost a Job, or Known Someone Else Who Has?

When you lose your job it may feel like the end of the world, and it certainly does throw a big hitch (and a lot of stress) into it, but in the end, it really is a chance to make a positive change. I wanted to get people talking a little bit about their experiences and perhaps to even offer advice if they have any.

Please look around as I share my own experience and some of the horror stories I've heard. More importantly however, please participate in this discussion. I know what it's like to not have an outlet when something as traumatic a losing your job occurs. I will include some good references to help but please offer resources you've used as well.

My Story

My education is as a therapist. After a few years of practice however, I found myself in the ranks of frontline supervisors and then just a couple of years later in mid-management. I've seen job loss from several angles. I've had co-workers lose their jobs, I lost my own once, and I was certainly involved it letting people go. There's clearly no good way to lose your job, but there are certainly some that are handled better than others. There are many books on the subject so I won't go into that subject in much detail, but I can heartily agree that companies and managers should become well acquainted with the best, and most humane way to handle the situation. I'll refer you to some books a bit later on.

I had personally dodged the bullet on at least two or three occasions in my career, but after ten or eleven years I had the opportunity to be "let go". Like many people I suppose I always knew it was possible, and in my particular situation even felt it was the right thing to do based on our financial and operational realities within the facility where I worked. As a manager, I knew our current structure was nearly lethal, and I knew which positions should be slashed, and yes, mine was among them.

However, one morning when our group of managers arrived for our regular monthly operations meeting, I suspected nothing. When our Chief Operating Officier arrived, she started by announcing that some of us would no longer have our positions after that day. She then read the names of all department managers, including me, and said we had lost our jobs. She said that we might have an opportunity to apply for other jobs in the coming months but for now we were to continue to operate as usual and they would let us know. We were not to discuss this with anyone.

Although I was shocked, I was also a bit intrigued as to what the other jobs would be, when they would let us know more, and so forth. She had no information. This group of managers, who typically worked 50 to 60 hours per week, were to continue on despite the uncertainty.

Would we have a paycheck next month? Would we have another job? Would that job be cleaning toilets? We simply had no idea. But, and this is critical; we were NOT to discuss it.

There were other non-clinical management positions that were also eliminated, so that in the end there were probably 20-25 positions eliminated in total. In the coming weeks things got much worse. This was exacerbated by the lack of communication from the top administration about our status. In the early days, some of the managers, honestly trying to be constructive wanted to meet as a group to begin planning for the structural changes that all of this would entail. They wanted to be involved in the work of figuring out how certain critical functions would be handled. They had, afterall, designed this business themselves and grew it from the ground up. However, administration would have no part of it. In fact, if the affected managers were seen talking, they were labeled as trouble makers.

The managers who had been let go became angry and in fact, I guess you could say "dangerous". I counted myself among the few who were dealing with it all pretty well because I actually felt some positive anticipation about the change. I don't see this as a positive attribute in my character, but rather an issue of good timing. I was probably getting a bit bored prior to the change. Other managers began to leak information about big changes to the front-line employees; vague rumors, ugly rumors. In addition, they didn't perform their jobs and chaos was often the result. It also created a very negative and distracted work environment. This drug on for approximately 3 months and the damage was significant. In the end, I was the only one in my group who remained a year later and accepted a new position.

Just a Few Tips for Insensitive Employers

Ok, maybe I should have just said tips for employers who don't want to be insensitive, but it was my one chance to put it in writing....employers can be incredibly insensitive!

Some of the errors that I saw included:

Public humiliation: If you are going to let people go, do it in person, one-on-one. Don't gang up on people and don't do it in front of others who will not be leaving.

Incomplete information and poor communication: When an employee finds out they will be let go, they probably don't hear much of the information you provide at that time. However, vagueness is deadly and you should anticipate their questions and have as many concrete answers as possible. Potentially you could provide this in writing as well.

Allowing employees to flounder. If the employee will not be leaving the building that day, be sure they have things to do. Give them a purpose, don't let them flounder. For remaining employees, be sure they are involved or at least well informed and quickly.

Allowing no forum for discussion: If the affected employee will be around, give them an outlet for their thoughts and feelings. Even if all you can do is bring in employee assistance counseling, it's very beneficial. I often offered access to our EAP for 3 months even for employees who were being terminated completely. I've also worked within organizations that set up assistance through career guidance/placement companies for those who were out of a job.

My Story Continued

After losing my job as a department manager, I interviewed and received a position managing all prn employees, coordinating all clinical education outside of nursing, and a huge number of miscellaneous duties that had typically fallen within the various "departments", which no longer existed. This was an open invitation to get every task under the sun. In the end, I had the responsibility of totally reorganizing all of the tasks and responsibilities that department managers used to do; yes, those same things that the "affected managers" had wanted to structure earlier. I became the go-to person, the only one who knew how things were supposed to operate, as well as the person to design and implement new processes in the face of change. I experienced what many downsizing survivors encounter: a crushing workload.

For a year or so it was fine. I was kind of energized. Then they downsized again. I received the duties of a few more managers and had few peers. By the third downsize in as many years, I was basically alone in the leadership of my section of the organization as even our COO was gone. I had an impossible job (that about 12 people used to accomplish), was in charge of several departments that I understood nothing about, no clue as to how they operated, and had no one who could pass on information to me about it. I also had no peers with whom to relate, responsibility I never requested, and ex-co-workers who sometimes resented me for being allowed to stay. Even when they stayed in touch as friends, they often wanted to gossip about my place of employment and talk about how horrible it was. I had no escape, guilt, and intolerable working conditions. I never once got a raise for the increased responsibilities, and only by fighting did I get the title changes I deserved. My employees and supervisors needed a lot of face time from me due to the uncertain environment and they were demanding I fix it all, now. Sympathy, obviously was not on the menu.

My requests for additional education to better perform my new responsibilities were rejected. I was both frustrated and ashamed at my failures over the course of the next several years, not something I was accustomed to experiencing. After five years however, I was finally able to take a different position, one which was, in my exhaustion, a better choice. The change was good for me but also for the facility as they recognized the need for more positions, and placed three new managers in my previous area of responsibility. However, I believe the damage had been done; the cumulative effects of constant change were long lasting and a year and half later, at age 45 I decided to retire and find other employment that would allow me to have more control over my destiny.

Clearly, the victims of downsizing go beyond those who are dismissed.

So how bad was it?

Other Horror Stories

I know when I had my job loss experience I thought that it was handled as poorly as I could imagine. It was definitely bad, but perhaps I was wrong. From stories I've encountered, I would say there is no shortage of insensitive employers who really don't handle downsizing very well.

I had a brother-in-law who managed a store for a regional chain. As he and his wife (my sister) traveled a few hours away to an annual meeting, they were anticipating a nice time. The annual event involved work related meetings of course, but also some nice social events including a rather extravagant dinner. When they arrived there was a man waiting at the door. He greeted them, and many of the other managers as well, to let them know they no longer had jobs as they would be closing several of the stores.

Nice.

Kudos to my sister and her husband for deciding to stay and enjoy the dinner on the company.

In another instance, I had opened a position for a therapist, and hired a single mother of two who currently lived in Maryland. She was to start six weeks later. A few days before she was to begin, I was told there was a hiring freeze and we were to take no new employees. This woman had left her job, relocated her family to Indiana, and now had no pay check. This was about as insensitive as any thing I could imagine. I inquired about instituting a freeze on new offers but not on those that had already accepted a position. No go. It's completely humiliating as a person to have to be the one to communicate such things and I did what little I could to talk to other facilities in the area to hook her up with any leads. As a manager, there is also frustration about these types of decisions, such cuts are often made without regard to the position. You may be short 3 or 4 physical therapists and have too many psychologists, but that doesn't matter, you can't hire anyone. Operationally, it makes no sense.

What are the Worst Ways to Lose Your Job You've Heard About or Experienced?

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Same thing happened to me, had a failed knee replacement that took over 2 years to heal, wont go into that, and lost my job I had for 28 yrs. and loved it. You feel kinda lost, and looking for another job is a full time job. Would like to start a group for support, since I think a lot of people are going thru the same thing, I think it may help!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I work as a tech for Arlington Public Schools in Arlington Virginia and it seems that losing my job is the most impossible thing for me to do. Have you ever met someone who wished he or she could be fired or laid off both for at work and at home reasons?

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      After 12 weeks of FML due to breast cancer, I was terminated because I, basically, wasn't recovering quick enough. Now the most difficult time of my life became even worse. Never thought that would happen.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      My boss lost his job. He made one simple mistake.... reply all.

    • RuthCoffee profile image
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      RuthCoffee 7 years ago

      @anonymous: I can definitely understand how you're feeling. So much of our time is spent at work and when we lose those ties, we lose a great deal!

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      anonymous 7 years ago

      I lost my job of over 19 years about eight months ago. This job i was good at and had a lot of success with. I loved the work I did. I had never been in trouble at work and never had any bad performance reviews. Then supposely i broke a policy which this employer(who came in 2007) then couldn't make up her mind which policy I broke but she terminated me. I will not discuss any of the other details because I am in ligitation with my former employer and agency I worked for because of my termination. I will say it was very unfair how i was treated and what happened to me. I do want to say the hardest thing for me was i lost a lot of friends and work family because of it and i lost a lot of self esteem. I lost people who were my family for years. Because i am in litigation and everybody is afraid of my former boss(she rules by fear and intimidation) and they see how easily she fired me, I am not able to have a relationship with them. I endanger them. I understand this on some level but on other levels i wish they would get brave and stand up against her. I also noticed that people have trouble knowing what to say to me, almost like someone died, so some avoid me. I wish things were different and I am still without a job though i am working towards certification as a counselor. I invested a lot of my blood,sweat, and tears in my former job and I loved it. I know one day I will look back on this as a bad dream but I will always miss my work family. In the meantime I can only look forward to what is ahead of me.

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      julieannbrady 8 years ago

      You know I don't remember a time where so many of the people who are my friends have lost their jobs after YEARS of loyal service -- it is quite a blow in these trying economic times.

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      i was hooked by the title! haha.. this is such a cool lens.. yeah it's really awful to lose jobs however sometimes, it's better to think of it as if you will have a long vacation (lol).

      This is not a boring lens! keep it up.

    • rebeccahiatt profile image

      rebeccahiatt 8 years ago

      I am familiar with the "you have a job, oh, no you don't, sorry" I was also hired for a job in a hospital, turned down a position at another hospital and then two days before I was to report to work, I was told there was a hiring freeze. Although I had accepted the position and was given clearance to start, I had no job!

    • ArtSiren LM profile image

      ArtSiren LM 8 years ago

      Somebody in the news recently lost their job for taking a day off ill, saying she was unable to use her computer - maybe it was a severe migraine or something; I can remember. It turned out that she got fired for updating her Facebook page that day. Her employer said it was a matter of trust, as she obviously could use her computer. But her defence was that she updated using her cellphone (maybe it was Twitter rather than Facebook). Personally I'm against this insidious creeping of employers into people's lives outside work. But this case was tantamount to spying on her.

    • RuthCoffee profile image
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      RuthCoffee 8 years ago

      [in reply to nightbear] This kind of interaction proves to me that many people in management/administrative positions don't belong there. I'm referring to your boss here. What kind of communications skills are those??

    • nightbear lm profile image

      nightbear lm 8 years ago

      I am a registered nurse. You wouldn't think of that job type as on the front lines of downsizing. Well think again. I was in middle management but still had daily patient contact and had been in my position for 15 years. I had just completed my shift and my supervisor walked into my office and without preamble said, "If you expect to remain here, you had better hustle and find yourself another position because you are no longer needed here, don't come back here tomorrow. you are done" Well my world collapsed. Talk about feeling devalued, I was crushed. I am a very productive and hard worker and was completely unprepared, actually shocked this had happened. Fortunately I did hustle and actually created another position for myself. Fortunately I had some friends in high places who bought my suggestions of a new unit that would be very fiscally sound for the hospital. But after a few years I realized the writing was on the wall and I left. It was a very distasteful time in my career.

    What It Comes Down to in the End

    The reality is that companies and businesses sometimes have to downsize in order to survive. People lose their jobs despite the high quality of the work they have done. Everyone is harmed by this. The people who are let go are often traumatized and without income, the people who are left feel guilt and they suffer the consequences of having even greater burdens placed upon them. Companies sometimes lose their reputation in the community if it's not handled well or they may lose in the areas of performance, quality, or perhaps their bottomline if not implemented correctly.

    I don't want to be too sappy and say that anytime you lose a job, it's in your best interest. Losing a paycheck and living through days, weeks, or many months of struggle is proof that it's not as wonderful as some would have you believe. On the other hand, it does sometimes force you to make hard decisions that you really do need to make but have put off. It also does honestly provide opportunity to learn, to grow, and in many instances to find a better form of employment. In any case, it IS something you can get through; persistence and learning can get you there.

    Understanding the change process is important for everyone involved. For employees, learning to prepare and to adapt to change is critical, and for employers understanding how to implement and communicate change is even more important. There is a lot written on the subject, as you can see below. But I'm also interested in your general suggestions.

    What Advice Would You Give? - Maybe You've Been There Too

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        anonymous 8 years ago

        I have not lost a job but I had to give one up due to illness and I am definitely the sort of person who thinks, when one door closes another one opens. Sometimes the end of something is the nudge we need to cross a threshold!

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        julieannbrady 8 years ago

        We've been there! On the receiving end of a company that made the decision to close down an operation gradually over about a two year period, granting pink slips over the course of time. It became a dreaded Wednesday when the lady from HR up north would show up. "Is it my time to go?" many would wonder. Luckily, my hubby had the seniority of over 22 years to be able to negotiate his release. He was able to ask for his last day -- although it turned out to be Friday the 13th of April two years ago. I guess he had a sense of humor about the whole thing. He got 18 months of partial health benefits which expired this past October. I have yet to figure out what my benefits are now -- hence my delay in visiting my doctor although I came back from vacation sick. Sometimes the wrong decision is made to close down an operation to unemploy hundreds of people. People making these decisions are human after all.

      • ArtSiren LM profile image

        ArtSiren LM 8 years ago

        I totally agree with Nightbear's comment: make it a priority in any job to spend the first year or two saving hard (if possible) to have 3-6 months living expenses covered if the worst happens.

        I got made redundant last year, and had saved a lot for a house deposit - I don't think house prices have fallen anywhere near enough yet, so I wouldn't entertain buying in the next 2 years. So I'm lucky to have those savings as a buffer - a REAL help!

      • nightbear lm profile image

        nightbear lm 8 years ago

        You need to think in the future. The advice of having a few months of your indebtedness saved up is really good advice. At least you have a few months to live off your savings while you figure things out. Also don't panic. Debtors WILL work with you. They want your money, they get nothing if you bankrupt. Your home and your car are most important. Keep them current if possible. If not possible, talk to them. Don't just stay silent. They need to know what you are doing.

      Photo Credits

      Introduction: sflovestory.

      My Story: snofla.

      Insensitive Employers: a2gemma.

      My Story Continued: arthurlegardo (no derivative work allowed)

      Other Horror Stories: GaryDenness.

      What It Comes Down To: CharlesTilford.

      What would you tell employees to help them cope or what would you tell companies about how to help their employees who lose their jobs?

      Other Thoughts or Words of Wisdom? - Yes you can include links to resources here.

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        • RuthCoffee profile image
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          RuthCoffee 7 years ago

          @anonymous: You're right of course. It's unfortunate for many bosses too...many of themselves thrust into the role with no training and no support.

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          anonymous 7 years ago

          It all boils down to education! As an mba graduate in Business, I would say about 90% of the management do not know how to be a leader and it shows. Many of these managers need to be retrained in the art of leadership!

        • Paula Atwell profile image

          Paula Atwell 8 years ago from Cleveland, OH

          Very insightful lens. Unfortunately in this day and age, change is inevitable and losing a job during a career happens to most of us. Because employers do not want to have to be the ones to let people go, they often do not know how to do in a professional manner.

          Squid Blessings.

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          anonymous 8 years ago

          Thank you for sharing this and Blessings to you!

        • SandyMertens profile image

          Sandy Mertens 8 years ago from Frozen Tundra

          It is just good to know that there are other people out their who have lost their jobs and want to tell their stories.

        • ArtSiren LM profile image

          ArtSiren LM 8 years ago

          Know the law for whichever country you live in. Do lots and lots of searches to make sure you are not being singled out unfairly or discriminated against.

          However, for me, getting made redundant was a blessed relief - I couldn't wait to leave and do other stuff!

        • nightbear lm profile image

          nightbear lm 8 years ago

          In this day and age, it is good that you are trying to help people by giving them a forum and maybe even some help. Great Job.