Sudden Unemployment – Reactions and Emotions

Unfortunately ‘organisational restructuring’ and ‘downsizing’ are common events in today’s workplace. For those individuals who suddenly lose their job, financial pressures can be overwhelming. Most support individuals receive focus on supporting the individual financially. However even under the best conditions where someone has ample savings and decent job prospects, suddenly losing a job is an emotional ride.

The emotional stress which individuals and their families experience is the least thought about effect of unemployment. For many people work is a central component to their identity. When their employment status changes, so too can their self identity. This together with the financial strain can be a very stressful and negative time.

If you have recently lost your job, you might need to focus on two issues. Firstly you need to look at your financial situation. You may need to rewrite your budget, apply for assistance, and talk to your bank manager or a financial advisor. Once you have initiated this, you then need to focus some time and energy on the emotional stress you are experiencing. You do this for two reasons:

  1. You are currently experiencing change. Change can be difficult to deal with when it is planned, however in situations such as sudden unemployment, your stress levels and emotions can skyrocket.
  2. You are starting a transition period. Transitions can either be negative or positive experiences. If you are proactive in your transition, you are more likely to have a positive experience with a more successful outcome.

Let’s start by looking at the three stages of your transition:

Transitions involve an ‘End’ of one situation (your previous job); a ‘Neutral Zone’ where you adjust and prepare for the ‘New Beginning’ (your new job). (Bridges, 1998).

  1. Ending: The Ending is the first step. The focus is on letting go of the emotions of losing your job.
  2. Neutral Zone: In the Neutral Zone you are in limbo and use this time to focus on you as a person and you as a worker.
  3. New Beginning: Your new beginning starts when you find your new job.

Reactions and Emotions

Every situation we encounter evokes a reaction and emotions. This usually only becomes a problem when the reactions and emotions we experience are unpleasant. In this post you will be focusing on your experience of being suddenly unemployed by addressing the following four points:

  • Acknowledge that you are experiencing strong and sometimes unpleasant reactions and emotions
  • Identify what these reactions and emotions are
  • Accept that these are natural reactions and emotions
  • Commit to the idea that these reactions and emotions will not allow you to wallow in the one spot.


At the point where you were told that your current job was no longer available, it is highly likely that you reacted in one of the following four ways:

Disbelief: Retrenched? How could they? I won’t allow it. I’ve given the last five years of my life to this organisation. I’ll go over your head and discuss this with the boss! Your reaction is to refuse to accept the situation.

Escape: Shock! I don’t believe it! I’m getting out of here. I cannot tolerate what is occurring, so I’ll escape from the situation and leave. Flight.

Euphoria: That’s all right. I understand. I will agree with whatever you say. I’ve always done so in the past. You are probably so highly geared you will agree with anything. After all, the boss will look after you as he has done in the past. Keep agreeing and all will be well. Regrettably, it won’t be, and you must accept the facts.

Violence: You can feel it building up inside you. You want to punch the manager in the mouth. You aren’t really listening to what he/she is saying, but if you hit him/her or smash up the office, it will stop, and you will feel better, much better. Fortunately, this is the least likely reaction people experience and few actually do commit acts of violence against persons or property. (Heathwood, 1992)

Your first reflection exercise is to think back on your initial reaction.

Did you respond in one the four ways described? If so which one? Was there anything you said or did at this time that has been playing on your mind? For example: some people feel that they let themselves down because they did not stand up for themselves, were too emotional or took their anger out on the wrong person.


Employment changes are losses and need to be recognized as such. As with any loss, you may experience varying degrees of sadness and grief. Trying to move on without recognizing and dealing with these feelings will make your job search very difficult.

The following emotions are common during this time:

Anger: You have just had your job taken from you and you feel really mad. Don’t they realise that the new scheme you implemented won’t run without you? Who’s going to write the new computer program? Is this all the thanks you get?

Fear: How will you cope? Who is going to pay the mortgage, the children’s school fees, buy the food and pay all the bills? You have this horrible sinking feeling in your stomach and you think you’re finished. You can only think of only the worst.

Sadness: The loss of a job is like the loss of a loved one and you feel sad, very sad.

Shame: It’s your fault. You lost your job and it cannot be replaced. You should have seen it coming and taken evasive action, but you didn’t. How would you be such a failure?

Self pity: It wasn’t your fault. You don’t deserve to be treated like this and it’s not fair. Why have you been picked on? Why not somebody else? That’s all the thanks you get! (Trevor-Roberts, 2004)

Just as you reflected on your reactions, now reflect on what emotions you have been feeling. It is not uncommon if you are experiencing quick changes in emotions. You may wish to discuss with a family member or a friend the reactions and emotions you have been experiencing. Discussing them can assist you to understand them further and let them go.

Leave a Reply