Guest Feature: Rachel Williamson - Dealing with Grief from Losing your Job
Are you dealing with the grief of losing your job this past week? If so, this post is for you.
There is Hope
Some of my dear friends, colleagues and even people I don’t know are reeling from the news that their brand or store is closing. I am referring to the closure of most Justice stores and all of Catherines stores. The announcement hit the airwaves on Thursday and I have been helplessly watching the fallout. Ascena isn’t the only retailer succumbing to the downward spiral of retail. When you have worked for a company for more than a decade of your life, it’s as personal for you as it is for them.
COVID has impacted retail in a way that we haven’t seen in our lifetime. Even the Great Retail Depression of 2008 didn’t send as many retailers into bankruptcy as COVID has. While there are many missteps within these retail organizations that ultimately caused their demise, the store teams must remind themselves daily that this is all outside of their control.
Read this Over and Over
I want you to repeat this to yourself over and over:
There is nothing you could have done to prevent this outcome.
This is not your fault.
You and your team are not to blame.
You will get through this and come out the other side better off than you were before.
While this realization alone won’t push you to acceptance, it is an important step in the process.
Grief From Personal Experience
For those of you who know me, you know that I too was impacted with a job elimination in August 2019. Nearly a year later, I can tell you that I have worked through the stages of grief and am happier than I have been in my professional career. I share this because I want to give you hope.
When I was first laid off, I thought “I was fine”. I had a little severance, no real urgency to get a job and time to think about what I wanted to do next. I thought I was grateful. Then one day I was talking to a recruiter and she commented that I sounded a little bitter as I talked about leaving ascena and that I had better move through the emotion before interviewing for a new position. I was shocked at what I heard. But I took it to heart and started to allow myself to work through the emotions associated with being laid off.
We won’t all have the same experience dealing with the grief we feel. The 5 stages of grief are not linear. What is important is that you recognize this situation as a loss and allow yourself to grieve.
Be the Hero of your Own Life
When major change happens, you have two choices. Wallow in it or be the hero of it, or so I thought. Truth is, we can be the hero of the situation for our teams and our families, but at some point, we have to move through the grief we are feeling. Work through it now or it will haunt you later and even become baggage that will damage how others see you in future roles.
As hard as it might be, the shadow you cast on your team now will have a lasting impact on them.
Let me share a true story with you about the impact store associates have.
Limited Too, Justice and Alexandra
When my daughter Alexandra was 11, I started working at Limited Too. She was pretty excited as she always loved shopping at Limited Too and Justice so the idea of getting a discount as my daughter made her pretty happy. On Friday nights, we would go to Easton, have dinner at California Pizza Kitchen with her best friend Allie and then go shopping at Limited Too and Justice. They would each get something and then we would go home and they would play with their “littlest pet shops”. Between the two of them, they had hundreds of these little toys.
For anyone with a girl that age, you know all too well that the associate in the store is much cooler than mom. So Alexandra would connect with the sales associate working and take any advice they had on what would look cute on her. Little did she know that I whispered to the sales associate what I liked and that is what she would suggest.
Fast forward 5 years. Alexandra turned 16 and wanted to work at Justice. Why? Certainly not because I worked at the Corporate Office. In fact, that would have been her reason to NOT work there. Not because it was close by our house, she had to commute 45 minutes each way. But all those years later, Alexandra wanted to provide tween girls with the experience she used to have when she shopped at Limited Too and Justice.
She doesn’t necessarily remember the names of these young girls who used to help her feel so good about herself during that awkward age. But she does remember (to this day) how they made her feel. Alexandra worked at Justice for 4 years connecting with thousands of tweens during that time and hopefully making them feel good about themselves and what they offered this world.
Then Came the Announcement
When the announcement was made that Justice was closing the majority of its stores, Alexandra was devastated, as was I. She hadn’t shopped there in many years. But she hoped that someday she would be taking her daughter there for the same experiences that she once had.
There are countless girls out there just like Alexandra. Tweens who need to hear how beautiful they are. Girls and their parents who are as devastated as you are that their daughters favorite store is closing.
So until your location closes, I want to encourage you and your team to be there for every single little girl who walks into your store until the very last day when you turn those lights off for the last time.
If you work for Catherines, or any other brand, I am sure this is a similar story for you and I encourage you to do the same.
Dealing with Grief
I love this article about dealing with grief after a job loss and wanted to share it.
“To recover from a layoff, it is first important to understand how it affects you emotionally. The typical emotional reactions of individuals who experience a significant loss were defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a well know Swiss American psychiatrist using her DABDA (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) model. We are going to use this model for capturing the various emotions people go through after they are laid off. For most, losing a job forms a loss that symbolically represents their established identity, designation, role and responsibilities.”
Let’s look closer at the 5 stages:
Initially, you may believe that the layoff and the store closing is just a rumour or a mistake. You may refuse to believe that it is really happening. You might think, “There must be some misunderstanding, I think I need to sort it out.” You might continue to believe that something has gone wrong and cling to a false, preferable reality.
Then you may recognize that denial cannot continue. You may get irritated by the very fact and become frustrated. People around you find you getting angry without any apparent reason. You might ask yourself or people close to you “Why me? It’s not fair” or “How can this happen to me?” or “Who is to blame?” or “Why would this happen?”
Sometimes people carry anger or depression to their next job, causing problems with productivity, interpersonal relationships and work efficiency.
“The third stage involves the hope that things can go back to the way things once were. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. For instance: “I’d give anything to be back—work hard, take up the shift that I always avoided or even work under the manager that I hated.” Or: “If only he’d give back my job, I’d promise to stay focused and perform better.”
RW Comment: I personally struggled with this one. I longed for the days to be back at Justice leading the store ops team and working with the amazing Regional and District managers and working with a team and a boss that I adored. It wasn’t until I got to “Acceptance” that I finally let this one go.
Bargaining and wishing for the past to come back can lead to depression and a feeling of sadness. Usual thoughts at this time are: “There is no meaning in working hard for organizations like this. There is nothing to look forward to. It’ll be really tough to find another job, I feel like giving up. What’s the point in putting up a fight and, after all, what am I fighting for?” At this stage, you might realize the ultimate realities of life—an absolute lack of control over such events, helplessness, and uncertainty. In this state, people close to you find you being silent, refusing to meet people or not taking interest or pleasure in your usual activities.
Those who fake acceptance put themselves in big trouble as emotional problems continue.
“Finally, a calm sets in, and you start to feel a lot more in control about not being control. You tell yourself: “It’s going to be okay. There is no point fighting it anymore. I am done with this organization; I may as well prepare for something new, possibly better.” In this stage, you might embrace reality or inevitable truth. This stage brings you confidence within and a kind of conviction about whatever you are able to do.”
“Ultimately, there are no short-cuts. You may have to go through all these stages before coming out at the other end of the tunnel. Individuals go through these stages at their own pace, staying at each stage for varying durations.”
“However, those who stay longer get into psychological adjustment problems and typically experience the negative effects of stress. Another situation we need to watch out for is when people carry anger or depression to their next job, causing problems with productivity, interpersonal relationships and work efficiency. Further, those who fake acceptance put themselves in big trouble as emotional problems continue. Therefore, it is important you patiently allow yourself to feel all these emotions until acceptance dawns.”
It’s Your Turn
I am not sure if there is anything else that I can say, other than, you will make it through this and come out better on the other side. It is vital to allow yourself to experience grief.
If you have already left the company, take a little time to decompress and think about what “next” looks like for you. I have written a couple articles that will help you prepare yourself.
If you are still working and will need to close down your store in the coming weeks or months, you have an incredible opportunity to be the type of leader that you want to be remembered for when this is all over. Lead your team through this. Be positive. Recognize and reward their hard work. Help them find a new job. I have already seen many Justice and Catherines managers doing just these things. What remarkable people!
I am here for you. Reach out to me if I can help at Rachel@runninggreatstores.com.
Always in your Corner,