Coping with the impact of a job loss

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There’s no denying it, writes Dr Nicola McCaffrey: “Whichever way you look at the figures, the number of people out of work in Norway is on the rise.” McCaffrey is a clinical psychologist in Stavanger, where job losses have been highest, and writes here about how the toll of job losses can be even higher than the numbers suggest. In this column, she offers more advice on how to cope with the psychological impact of being made redundant.

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Dr Nicola McCaffrey, a clinical psychologist in Stavanger, can help put a smile back on the faces of employees who are losing their jobs in the oil and other industries. PHOTO: Special to newsinenglish.no

Dr Nicola McCaffrey, a clinical psychologist in the Norwegian city of Stavanger that’s been hit by job losses, offers more advice to help restore smiles to people who are losing their jobs in the oil and other industries. PHOTO: Anne Lise Norheim

The real total of people now out of work in Norway may be significantly higher than the estimated 4.2 percent, as many who’ve lost their jobs feel too embarrassed or ashamed to claim benefits from (Norwegian state welfare agency) NAV, or find they don’t qualify. Others are managing to make their severance packages cover their living expenses and are not included in the official statistics until, perhaps, their severance pay runs out. Regardless of which way you look at it, there’s no doubt that many more people living and working in Norway are about to experience, perhaps for the first time, what it’s like to be out of work.

While job loss is becoming increasingly common, our familiarity with the concept doesn’t make experiencing these blows any easier. It is difficult enough to pick yourself up and dust yourself off following redundancy, without having to battle the self-critical voices, anxieties and doubts that seem to have returned home with all of the paraphernalia that used to reside on your desk. The sudden and sometimes crippling lack of routine, contact with colleagues, regular wage packet and sense of purpose can leave many feeling isolated, anxious, and depressed.

Not just a matter of money
Previously much attention had been paid to the financial pressures redundancy creates. But it is interesting to note that while money is the most common concern initially, it quickly becomes the least concerning factor for many. The loss of some of the latent benefits of employment such as a sense of identity, a source of self-esteem, a sense of direction, purpose and fulfillment are increasingly being recognized as being of at least equal value when it comes to coping with the effects of redundancy.

“It is a source of almost constant regret for me that I wasted my time on three degrees for which I was required to evidence a basic level of ability, when I could have completed a degree in HR and would undoubtedly be running the show by now,” quipped a friend of mine who was recently made redundant from her post in the oil and gas industry. She went on to explain that despite putting on her best face and displaying all of the assertive behavior and tone she could muster, she ultimately left the meeting with HR feeling deflated and angry with the process. “But that’s why workplace bathrooms were invented, to allow all the bravado and coherence to dissolve into one great puddle on the corporate floor. There’s no doubt about it, for the majority of people, being made redundant is a singularly unpleasant experience, characterized by inept management of the process, much uttering of platitudes and a sneaking suspicion of injustice on the part of the redundant employee.”

More trouble at state welfare agence NAV as its IT director quits. PHOTO: Arbeids- og sosialdepartement

Many of the oil and gas industry workers and engineers now losing their jobs were highly paid with promising careers, and now are too embarrassed or ashamed to head for the NAV welfare office to claim benefits. Not all of the expat workers laid off in Norway qualify for benefits, either, rubbing salt into their wounds. PHOTO: Arbeids- og sosialdepartement

Our response to the redundancy process differs from person to person. Those who deal with it best have a tendency to frame their redundancy as an opportunity to hit the pause button, take a break and look for a new adventure. They may travel, find a purpose through volunteer work or engage in other practical job-seeking opportunities. But for others, redundancy can be utterly devastating, creating a psychological response similar to grief and resulting in a spectrum of negative thoughts and emotions that need to be recognized and worked through.

Psychologists have identified a myriad of emotions which are linked with the process of redundancy including anxiety, depression, embarrassment, irritability, an inability to think clearly, and even relief. Despite experiencing these strong emotions it is important to try to keep job loss in perspective. Yes job loss is something that can be shocking and unsettling, especially if you are experiencing it for the first time. But it is no different to any other crisis that you have experienced in your lifetime. You have the skills to overcome these difficulties. It is just a matter of locating and re-igniting the coping and adjustment strategies that have gotten you through previously.

Bouncing back
Eager to hear the silver lining? There is a considerable collection of research on coping with adversity that should give those facing job loss grounds for optimism. In fact, much of the research suggests that a large number of people who are made redundant can ultimately end up feeling that they have grown, changed, or even benefitted from their experience. So here is how to go about it:

  • Think about your thinking. Worrying is natural and ok. It is of course completely normal to feel worried and stressed about redundancy. But try to keep tabs on the kinds of things you are worrying about and thinking to yourself. Is your mind consumed with thoughts of failure? Do you blame yourself for your redundancy? Are you thinking that everyone around you is looking down on you and wondering about your competence? Are you chastising yourself for letting yourself and your family down? Once you have identified these negative trains of thought you have to challenge and change them. Make them more realistic and give them a tone of self-compassion and kindness. Don’t let unhelpful negative patterns of thought consume you.
  • Take the personal out of it. At times redundancy can feel very personal. Be aware that in being made redundant, past experiences of being rejected may be triggered and the thoughts and feelings associated with these experiences may come flooding back. Take back what control and power you can. Instead of explaining to others “I was made redundant” when the inevitable questions come, try making it a bit less personal and instead tell them “my position was made redundant.” It is actually closer to the truth and will help protect a bit of your self-esteem too.
  • Stick to the old routines. One of the difficulties that is often experienced post-redundancy is how to fill the day. If you are used to getting up and out of the house, try to stick loosely to this routine. It can be all too easy to get sucked into daytime TV or sleeping late, but it won’t help your sense of self, your chances of finding new employment or your productivity. Passive activities such as surfing the Internet and lying in bed can make us feel unproductive, lazy and unfulfilled. It is important to continue to have daily exercise, a balanced diet and relaxation in place.  Make the time and effort to get out of the house.
  • Capitalize on your coping. Loss is an inevitable part of life and redundancy is simply loss repackaged. Learning to cope with loss can help bring meaning to our lives and is an opportunity for reflection and growth.  Think back to the other losses you have experienced throughout your lifetime and reflect on how you have overcome these challenges.  Are you able to use any of your tried and tested coping methods to see you through these challenging times? If you are at a total loss, remember to simply breathe! Simple breathing exercises and mindfulness techniques can be helpful coping strategies, particularly in challenging times.
  • Resist the urge to jump head on into the next thing. If your severance package allows, take some time to reflect on what you want to do next. What was it about your last job that you found positive and uplifting and what was it that you felt unsatisfied with? It is not often that we get the chance to reflect on our career choices and potentially make the change to something we are more suited to and that will potentially generate a lot more happiness for us.
  • Stay Connected. Sometimes we take for granted the relationships in our workplace that can help us to feel connected. When we lose our job all of a sudden we can lose our sense of connection to others and the world at large. Make an effort to foster your relationships outside of work as well as nurturing the relationships you have with former colleagues. Research indicates that the single most important factor in determining our happiness in not in fact our work but our connections.
  • Turn redundancy on its head. Instead of thinking of this as a negative thing that has happened, reframe it and try to see some of the positive aspects this might hold. Is this the beginning of new possibilities or potentially the end of old patterns that are no longer useful? Perhaps you have been working like a treadmill for the past 10 years and this has provided you with an opportunity to stop and refuel. Try to make the most of the time that you have, you will thank yourself for the breathing space when you find yourself sat firmly back at the computer screen again.
  • Talk it Through. People can often feel ashamed for being made redundant and will hide themselves, their feelings and their thoughts away. Don’t try to work this out all on your own. Seek out support in your family and friends. Many studies have shown that those who have experienced redundancy and were able to face up to the adversity and share their experiences with those around them coped well. Many of your colleagues may also have been made redundant and can empathize and understand what you are going through wholeheartedly. Sometimes, however, a more objective viewpoint can be helpful, especially as close friends and families may have their own viewpoints and anxieties concerning job loss. In which case therapy can be a good way of talking through what has happened and can be helpful in organizing and working through your thoughts and feelings, setting realistic goals and working out ways of achieving them. By talking things through we are able to begin to understand our reactions and mindset better. It reminds us of how we have coped in similar situations and so helps us to formulate a plan to get through our current challenges.

And if you are one of the “lucky ones” left behind to mop up the workload, consider your own role in aiding the disheartened colleague who has been summoned for a meeting with HR. As someone who has recently been through the painful redundancy process, my friend reflected on the approach her colleagues took to helping her during the process.

“I won’t pretend to be an expert on redundancy now,” she told me, “but I do just want to offer some guidance on one thing – how to approach colleagues who are in the midst of being made redundant. It is probably something that everyone feels a bit awkward about, but I really valued the effort and time that my wider work colleagues took to help me understand that I still had a huge amount to offer an employer. Many were able to highlight areas where they felt I had really delivered value, often things I had forgotten in the fog of failure. It’s something I will try to do next time for anyone else who is dealing with redundancy. Rather than saying vaguely, ‘well, when one door closes, another one opens’, which may ultimately be true, I will put some work into helping my colleague understand what keys they have to open the next one.”

 Dr Nicola McCaffrey, who has written earlier for newsinenglish.no, is a clinical psychologist who’s been working in private practice in Stavanger since 2012. An expat herself, she has special insight into the challenges faced by those who’ve moved to Norway for professional or personal reasons, and she caters to the English-speaking international community in Norway. McCaffrey has a doctorate in clinical psychology from The University of Glasgow, has been qualified to work in the UK since 2008 and is authorized to practice in Norway through Statens Autorisasjons Kontor (SAK). McCaffrey is also a member of the professional association, Norsk Psykolog Foreningen. Visit her website at www.nicolamccaffrey.com.

 

  • frenk

    Are you thinking that everyone around you is looking down on you and wondering about your competence? I wonder this almost everyday….some of the Norwegian staff I work with are ‘not the best at what they are paid to do’….although I sense they don’t appreciate their incompetence….or…are too ignorant to care….the mystery continues….

    • Johan Åsenheim

      Wondering about their own competence? People love themselves too much here to do that. If anything goes wrong it must be the foreigner’s fault. Miscommunications happen always because the foreigner did not understand, it couldn’t possibly be because the Norwegian failed to explain something properly. It is always “the other guy’s” fault by default here. “The other guy” is always the token foreigner or two, who are there simply for the appearance of accommodating “diversity”. Worse yet, do they tell “the other guy” what they think of his/her performance, and what they should do to improve? No, that would be “too confrontational”, no constructive criticism is offered at all before its too late. We all stagnate together, everybody happy in their own bubble, with few aspirations or expectations beyond the mediocre.

      • frenk

        Sann er det bane?!?