Positive attitudes help navigate bumpy job transitions

Issue April 2003

Q:Our managing partner recently informed me that the firm is cutting back at the associate level and that a number of us are being let go - not because of my performance but due to a loss of business and the economic climate. I was offered six months' severance, out-placement services and the opportunity to take up to three months to look for other employment. Since I've never been in this position before, I would welcome any suggestions on how to handle it.

A:Your situation is not unique in this economic climate. Even for those who were not content in their jobs, becoming unemployed is rated high on the stress scale, alongside predicaments such as divorce or medical crisis.

With job loss, people realize how much work defines their identity and status in the world, and tend to experience a kind of existential crisis. Yet, individuals vary in how they handle the stress.

Depending on your outlook and any experience with previous adverse situations, you may approach this event with dread and foreboding, or see it as an opportunity for change. In any circumstance outside one's control, one may feel overwhelmed, and may respond by either withdrawing or flying into action in an attempt to feel less vulnerable. For some, the event may bring a sense of numbness or unreality. As the initial shock subsides, a broader range of feelings may emerge, such as anger, outrage or a depressed state.

Those who define adversity as an opportunity to explore new possibilities tend to be most successful in coping with downsizing. While acknowledging those realities over which they have no control, they also recognize their power to take charge of those matters over which they do have choice and impact. A positive attitude allows these individuals to keep trying, exploring alternatives and reaching out to others for support and ideas. A sense of humor also can help ward off feelings of victimization and hopelessness.

To avoid becoming depleted during the transitional phase between jobs, attend to your needs for good nutrition and exercise. Maintain a daily and weekly routine to help you stay motivated and productive. Certainly, it is worth availing yourself of the firm's offer of out-placement services. The process keeps you mobilized, and you never know what useful ideas or contacts might materialize. LCL's services are also available to you for referrals related to the inherent stressful and disruptive effects of being out of work. We also maintain a list of career consultants and coaches who might be of assistance to you in developing a new career direction.