From denial to depression to acceptance – how bankers should deal with layoffs

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Feeling like your career has gone to the dogs? It is a terrible time for finance professionals. Much of the developed world is besieged by a debt crisis, the financial industry is vilified for its role in the whole mess and the masses with pitchforks want scapegoats. Unfortunately, the usual public enemy number one, politicians, are too busy arguing about how to solve the debt problems or, worse, whose problems are they to solve.

At the same time, the usual public enemy number two, finance industry bigwigs, are equally busy arguing with shareholders about why they should still get multi-million dollar bonuses, despite introducing the world to the high-octane concept of leverage. The collateral damage from all this is the seemingly-endless layoffs that we see emerging from the industry.

If you are a retrenched professional embarking on a path to recovery, you may have already received more advice than you can handle. However, one voice often not given due attention could well be that of your own mind. I would like to use the “five stages of grief,” developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and apply them to layoffs in the financial sector.

1) Denial

Maybe this layoff is temporary; perhaps I will get my job back as the market improves during the two months I’m at the outplacement center.

During this stage, your confidence may be dented but not your hope. Furthermore, the period immediately after a layoff is the most fertile in terms of meeting all the contacts you have accumulated over the years. Some people genuinely want to help, some want to gossip about the company wielding the axe and, rather disturbingly, a few just revel in a bit of schadenfreude. Irrespective of what the motives are for granting you an audience, you should take full advantage while the leads are still hot and the reality of a retrenchment is not.

2) Anger

Why are they firing me? I'm better than half the clowns in this place. Where can I find a lawyer?

Due to financial considerations or a lost sense of identity, it is only natural that most retrenched professionals clamor to get straight back into the workforce. However, if you find yourself in the anger state, it may well be more beneficial to completely step away from the job search. No matter how you try to conceal it, emotional bitterness can easily slip through in conversations with contacts and interviews with potential employers. This will definitely not endear you to anyone.

3) Bargaining

Maybe I can negotiate my job back for less pay, or perhaps on a contract basis.

This stage is often sparked by desperation, either at the point of being laid off or after an unsuccessful stretch of job searching. Although I’m not discouraging any tactics devised during this stage, you should realize that even if you do successfully bargain, any changes are unlikely to be sustainable. More importantly, pursuing any course of action in this state of mind may actually diminish one of the true benefits of a layoff: a wholesale chance to re-evaluate your passions and long-term aspirations. 

4) Depression

I'm never going to get a job. What am I going to do for the rest of my life?

Although "it's always the darkest before the dawn" epitomizes the very definition of a cliche, the cliche has endured because it epitomizes truth. If you are ever unfortunate enough to reach this stage due to a job loss, just remember that things can only get better from here. More importantly, remember the things that really matter in your life: the irreplaceable health of you and your family, and their genuine love and affection for you, rather than your job title.

5) Acceptance

It is what it is, it wasn’t personal and it wasn't my fault. It's time to stop sulking and start living.

You have finally achieved closure. You have emotionally detached yourself from an unfortunate situation and are finally ready move on. If you have not found a job by this point, it is at this stage of emotion that you will most likely get your second wind and reinvigorate the search or, even better, your true passion.

Involuntarily losing a job is never easy and no one can fully empathize with the pain involved. However, recognizing your own emotions during this period, and devising your actions accordingly, can make the whole process much more fruitful. And, in time, you are likely to look back on this period and declare it as a true blessing in disguise. I know this because I’m acquainted with many who have come through a similar ordeal and gone on to truly bigger and better things in their careers and lives.

This article first appeared on our Australian site.

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