JOB SEARCH / JUL. 14, 2014
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How to Handle Job-identity Loss

Losing your job, through a lay off or other sudden change in circumstances can have a whole range of impacts on your life, many of which are practical, including loss of income and ensuing financial concerns. Compounding these practical issues, however, can be the loss of job-identity, which can be equally difficult to deal with.

Despite the fact that we all play multiple roles in our everyday lives, when asked ’what do you do’, our answer always refers to our job title, rather than giving even the slightest nod to the other equally important positions we may hold as friend, mother, sister or wife. Our job is a defining feature, and the loss of that definition can be bewildering and trigger a fairly extreme reaction in some people. Any sudden change provokes a series of emotions which are often described using the ’change curve’ model - and an understanding of this model and its application in the case of job-identity loss, can help individuals cope in this difficult circumstance.

Anger and Denial

The first stage of the change curve is that of anger and denial. Particularly in cases of lay off, individuals may feel resentment at what has happened as the news sinks in. You may feel like the phone will ring any minute, and you will be asked to come back into work, or that a last minute change of heart will turn the situation around. At this stage, it is important to take time to allow the emotions to pass - whether your coping mechanism is to punch a pillow, or weep on the phone to a friend, don’t try to skip the stage, as this will only bury emotions to pop up destructively later.

Shock and Fear

Having coped with the anger, you now need to ride the wave of shock and fear that is likely to assault you as practical and psychological impacts of your job loss become increasingly clear. This is where you can start to put in place practical steps to get back into control. Find out about your rights if you have been laid off, and any support offered from your ex-employer to help you move on, such as outplacement support.

At this stage you may well find you want to talk the situation through - find a sympathetic ear, although bear in mind that those very close to you may not actually be the best choice, as they may be too involved with the same practical concerns, such as financial worries, to offer unbiased advice. Professional advice may be available for free from industry charities, such as the Retail Trust for those who work (or have ever worked) in the retail industry, and who offer phone based counseling for all manner of situations including the immediate impact of redundancy and job-identity loss.


The stage of acceptance is the turning point where you become fully able to take back control and start to make plans for your future. The key to bouncing back quickly from job-identity loss is not to try to gloss over or skip the preceding stages, but to accelerate your mental adjustment to end up in acceptance as quickly as reasonable possible.

Now you might feel prepared to start thinking about next steps - your mind will have cleared and you will be better able to network - approach appropriate individuals and agencies to try to secure a new position, refresh your CV and interview skills, and start to sketch out a return to work.

If you have concerns about how long it is taking to get to this stage, or fear that you will be unable to get to this stage unaided, now might be the time to seek professional advice, particularly if you are displaying any of the symptoms of depression. In this case, the sooner you seek help, the quicker you will be able to address the issues you are experiencing and continue to move on.


By this final stage of the change curve, things will feel much brighter, with a draft plan to work through to get back into the job market, and the momentum of goals you have set yourself to continue driving forwards. Take the time to recognise how far you have come, and take the plunge to commit to the steps you’ve thought through. Before you know it you will have pulled through the difficult experience of job-identity loss, and bounced back even higher than before.

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