You were just fired or your company has just laid you off. You're probably going to have some personal issues to contend with.

You survived the layoff. You may have feelings similar to the people who were cut. You may also feel unmotivated and insecure.

You're retiring either voluntarily or involuntarily-and it doesn't matter whether you're a 65 year old factory worker, a 70 year old executive, a 35 year old athlete or a 28 year old dot com millionaire.

Whichever side of the job cut fence you're on, or even if you're doing the job terminations, this article is for you.

After losing a job, you might feel panic: "I'm 55. Nobody will hire someone my age…and I've got a kid in college" or "I have two small children and a mortgage. We're going to starve and be out on the street" or "Have I saved enough to live the retirement lifestyle I want?". You might feel angry: "If only those morons in management had listened to what we were telling them, the company would have thrived". You might shrug your shoulders and go on: "Time to polish up the old resume and get cracking".

These are just a few entirely normal reactions.

Losing a job is a personal loss. It's not like having a loved one die, but there are similarities. For better or worse, in our society we tend to identify ourselves by our jobs. I usually recommend to my clients who are in this situation that they acknowledge that they have suffered a personal loss and suggest that they treat this loss the same way they would if someone close to them had died. I even invite my clients to take a few days and follow whatever mourning customs they are familiar with, e.g., cover their mirrors, don't think about job hunting yet and just mourn the loss. Grieving in this way can help the recovery to begin.

Stages of loss

In her book "On Death and Dying," Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief that people pass through after a loss. Feelings aren't orderly and the stages don't necessarily happen in sequence, but they are:

  • Denial and isolation:
    "This can't/isn't happen to me." "I'm so embarrassed—what will my wife/children/friends think." "I've always worked. What will I do now that I'm retired?" These are common immediate reactions. The person may retreat from family or friends-to think, absorb the blow, or protect himself from embarrassment, or for other reasons.
  • Anger and/or resentment:
    "If those morons running things had only listened to us in engineering/sales/support, there wouldn't have been a layoff!" "I was working. Why didn't they fire those guys who just gossip all day?" "Mandatory retirement makes no sense!" Anger may also be an immediate reaction.
  • Bargaining:
    "If you keep me on, I'll take a salary cut." "Don't do this and I'll be a better employee." It may be that the injured party wants to try, or actually does try, to bargain his way back into the job. Or she may want to go back and fix whatever the perceived problems is-to create a "do over".
  • Depression:
    "I'm never going to find another job." "We're going to lose the house." "I don't have a clue what to do next so I might as well just stay in bed/watch TV." Bleak, disempowering thoughts may well occur at some point. This is normal unless it becomes debilitating or lasts for a long time.
  • Acceptance:
    "It happened, it hurt, I'm moving on." "Loss is part of life. I've learned from this experience." "Retirement gives me a lot of freedom to explore things I never had time for." Acceptance doesn't mean not having scars. Acceptance means recognizing that what happened did happen and moving on with life.

People may sometimes skip, or seem to, skip a stage. They may leave a stage and return to it later. They may be in more than one stage at a time. It can take minutes or years to pass through a stage. Everyone experiences job loss differently and there is no right way to process these feelings.

For people who have lost a job

The most helpful thing may be for you to take a break to process your feelings before moving into a job hunt. Consider that doing the things required to find a new job may be counterproductive while in certain stages of grief. For example, being angry in a job interview, may lead to making disparaging comments about a former employer-not necessarily the one you just left. The interviewer can easily wonder "if this is how she talks about that employer, how will she talk about us?" Similarly, if depression is a problem, it may be difficult to write positively about the great things you accomplished in your former job.

As you process your feelings about your loss, you will be able to write your resume, network and interview well-and that is what will lead to your next job.

For people who are helping someone who has lost a job

Telling the wounded party that it's not his fault (which might or might not be true), or that she'll recover may seem logical, but it probably won't be helpful. When someone has been wounded this way, is in denial and may have withdrawn from the people who are close, being logical or trying to raise his spirits may be unwelcome. The wounded party isn't ready for these words yet.

The wounded party is only going to hear arguments that he's worthwhile, capable, will succeed again while in the "acceptance" stage. In the other stages, it's unlikely that you can do more than listen supportively-and this can be difficult.

For people who survived a layoff

Companies generally ignore the people who survived a layoff. That ignores the fact that the survivors might have some problems too. For example, survivor's guilt ("why did my friend get cut and not me") might be a problem. It's demoralizing and demotivating to see friends fired. The people who are left may find it hard to stay motivated. They may also wonder if they're next or if the company is going to close the doors imminently.

For people who are retiring

Your life is going to be different. "Different" is what you make it. You will have more time. You can take advantage of your freedom from to do things you never had time to do before. Some activities might be for money and others might not. You might: write a novel-or your memoirs, take up a new sport-like fencing, start a business, work for causes you care about, mentor younger people.

Remember, retirement is just a change in your professional status. You're still you.

For people who planned or implemented a layoff or fired someone

The people who planned or implemented a layoff might be feeling like the survivors-or they might feel guilt at putting people out of work. It's easy to say to yourself that the well being of the corporate body and the rest of the employees was at stake. It can also feel like that's a rationalization. In fact, unless you took some sadistic pleasure, you were probably doing what was necessary.

If you weren't implementing a layoff but were firing a single employee, there may be different feelings. It's possible to fire someone gently-even if he's been an obnoxious employee. It could well be that the situation just wasn't right and that in a different environment the employee would be wonderful. Conveying that message is a lot more uplifting than telling someone they're incompetent. You might even feel better for delivering the bad news more gently.

Yes, you can recover

Losing a job isn't fun and neither is firing someone. I know both roles from first hand experience. Until people are created so they will function excellently in all situations and companies always grow regardless of the economic climate, job loss will be part of working life.

The important thing to remember is that you can recover and get on with your life. Using rituals for loss that you're familiar with can be a guide to proceeding through the difficult transition.