Just over a year ago I was let go from my job. I was working for a small tech start up in Nottingham and it was an extremely toxic workplace, with issues of sexism, workplace bullying and just general mismanagement happening on a daily basis. But it was a job I loved and I had a really strong network of people around me, so I was terrified of losing it. I would lie awake at night, panicking over getting fired or getting yelled at by my managers. I felt as if my self esteem was being chipped away, day after day, to the point where I couldn’t breathe without being called into a meeting about my ‘negative’ attitude.
And then one day I was called into what was supposed to be my performance review. It was a really hot day and my boss actually uttered the phrase ‘right it’s bloody hot in here so let’s get this over with quickly’. I was told that it wasn’t good news and that I was being let go. I still feel my chest tightening a little as I write those words. I felt ashamed, embarrassed, and absolutely terrified of what would happen next. Would I be able to find more work with the label ‘fired’ stamped across my chest? Would every workplace be as bad as this one? How would I cope financially, would I have to move back in with my parents? I got home and sat at the end of my bed in a state of shock, tearfully explaining to my mum that my worst fear had actually come true. It was a brutal and painful day, one that still gives me nightmares and can set off huge bursts of anxiety when I have to remember it. But I wanted to put my pain to good use. This is a blog to talk about that awkward, complex and difficult to talk about cross section of mental health and business. I want to connect with people who are, like me, working in a job they love but struggling with their mental health too.
So what happens when you lose your job? What are the first few steps you should take after you’ve left your workplace on your very last day?
Firstly, you should do nothing.
In the first few minutes, hours, even days of unexpected unemployment, you should not do anything. Aside from informing the people who absolutely need to know, there’s no pressure for you to make any moves at all. No matter the reason, losing your job is a huge traumatic loss and should be treated as a form of grief. Your brain is going to be fighting a battle of shame, fear, anger and sadness at what’s happened and it’s going to take you a while to adjust. You need to take some time to accept what happened, and to recognise yourself in the space you are in now. You no longer work for them, you are no longer associated with them and now you’re simply in a different phase of your life.
Of course, I understand that for some people this statement doesn’t always apply. In my case, I was forced to work from home for the rest of the month, if I wanted to be able to collect my last set of wages. I wasn’t allow to accept another job until I’d finished working for them and then I had to go back into the office at the end of the month to pick up my final paycheque. If you’re stuck on garden leave, simply moving on isn’t that easy and you could still be tied to your old company for a few more weeks after you’ve actually been fired. So then you do all you can. You do the work they ask, and you just give yourself time. Time to breathe, take some rest, and process your next steps.
Then you start to reflect.
After you’ve suffered losing your job, it’s instinct to want to sort out another source of income immediately. Your anxious brain will take over, forcing you to send out CV’s at random, applying anywhere and everywhere in an attempt to restore the natural order we’re taught is right. This won’t help. This will put you in a bad situation. Before you even start looking for a new role, take at least two weeks to plan what it actually is you want to do. Reflect on what happened in your old job. Write it down, speak to friends, family or even a therapist about what happened. What were the negatives and the positives that led to your termination?
Often, people experience losing their job for one of three reasons. 1) a mistake, significant enough to warrant preventative measures i.e. employee termination. 2) Poor performance, where the employee has not provided substantial evidence that they are still benefiting the company. 3) Personal factors, where a clash of employee and employer leads to issues to big to resolve until the employee is gone. One of the first things you need to do is identity which of these three reasons was the cause of your firing. Or if it wasn’t any of these, what was the real reason you were let go? How can you prevent the same mistakes in future?
Perhaps it was a case of one-off poor management and unsuitable circumstances? But maybe the industry you’ve chosen just isn’t right for you. Or the role you trained for doesn’t fit to your best skills and abilities. Through this reflection, you should be trying to identify the parts of the role you liked and the parts where you struggled, as this can help you define what to look out for when searching for a new role.
Time to plan.
Ok, now it’s time to get serious. Get your spreadsheets and bank statements ready, grab a big cup of coffee and start planning. How much were you earning in your previous job? How much do you have in savings? How long can you last without a new stream of income? Having completely visibility over your current financial situation can allow you to plan efficiently for your future. Perhaps you have some big plans coming up, i.e. a holiday or a house move. You’ll need to save a certain amount up for that, so you should be trying to find a role that can provide you with that salary.
Then you should be working out what your actual skills are. Using the reflection carried out in the previous step, you can identify what you’re actually good and start applying for roles in that field. Doing up your CV after losing your job can feel terrifying and embarrassing, but all you have to do is put the last date of your employment next to the company name. You should list the responsibilities you had and where possible provide a reference. If no reference was offered from management, see if someone else in your team would be willing to provide one.
This stage is simple. Figure out what you want and go for it. You’ve invested the time into planning for what you want and this is your chance to put that plan into action.
Self-Care and Kindness In-between
So now you’ve sent off your CV to a dozen companies and you’re just waiting to hear back from them. You’ve got your interview clothes all ironed and ready, and you know your job skills patter inside out. So what now?
This is the time where you carry the essential levels of self care and self kindness you can. I spent months beating myself up about losing my job, feeling obsessively angry at the company for putting me through it. I was desperate to hear about my old managers, trying to see if they mentioned me, if anyone missed me. I just wanted to know that I’d made an impression during my time there. Which, as you can imagine, was not only really annoying for my friends but also completely unhealthy.
Instead, I should have been processing the trauma and trying to be kinder to myself. Being logical and rational about my skills. I knew I was good at marketing, I knew I had good people skills and I knew I could write, so why was I letting one managers opinion shatter my own self belief? Take a few minutes a day to do something you like. Whether it’s going for a long walk, chatting to your friends, watching funny videos of Youtube, anything. This is free time and you’re not going to benefit yourself by sitting and wallowing. This is a chance to relax, re-evaluate and reestablish your routine to allow better things to come.
Informing other people that I’d lost my job was definitely an experience. Luckily for me, most of my friends were ones I’d met through that workplace, who already knew how bad the company was. But when it came to telling new friends or long distance family members that I’d been fired, I really struggled not to feel shame. Sometimes I would try to make a joke out of it, laughing at my own experiences like they didn’t really matter. Other times I would get emotional and upset, without really meaning to.
You can choose who you tell and how you tell it. If your recovery process means being completely honest with the people you care about, then do it as soon as possible and tell them how best to support you. If you want to wait until you feel stronger to let people know about your circumstances, then wait. There’s no time limit, deadline or mandator period in which you must tell the world you’ve been fired. It should be done on your schedule, and you make the decisions now.
The way you look at your past experiences can really help to determine your future. You can choose to see losing your job as the worst thing that ever happened to you or the best. You can form your own path now, without the shackles of a job that clearly wasn’t right for you. Think of your termination as your professional rock bottom. It only gets better from here on up.