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Fired, But Not Finished: Your Job Ends, Your New Life Begins

Fired, But Not Finished: Your Job Ends, Your New Life Begins

Bill Lampton, Ph.D.

February 12, 2009

You can’t believe what your supervisor just said: “Our company is feeling the impact of the economic nose dive. So we’re going to have to eliminate your position, effective today. Now let’s take a minute to review your severance plan.”

Instantly, you’re in shock. Controlling your inner turmoil isn’t easy. A tidal wave of emotion sweeps over you. You feel cheated: “This isn’t fair,” you’re thinking, “because I’ve been loyal and productive. Why not Alice, who never got her work done on time?”

You are afraid: “How am I going to pay our mortgage? And Jenny has three more years of college. Where is her tuition coming from?”

You are resentful: “After all I have done for these people, they owe me a promotion, not a pink slip.”

Your feelings are hurt. You are profoundly sad. As your supervisor asks for your office keys, your eyes sting from the mounting tears that are ready to flow.

You want to protest, fight back, demand an appointment with the CEO, and even talk to an attorney.

FIRST MAJOR PROBLEM: To subdue your anxiety, despair, and resentment

I faced that problem too. In 1996, the year had dawned with great promise. As vice president of a charitable organization, I had exceeded my fund raising goals by thirty-one percent. My salary was excellent, and I had just deposited a strong year-end bonus. The signs pointed toward remaining in my current position until voluntary retirement.

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Then my supervisor entered my office, shut the door, and said, “I have an unpleasant job to do today.”

From a couple of vantage points, the odds didn’t look good for me. My fiftieth birthday was behind me, and I was well aware of an unspoken managerial preference for “new faces and fresh ideas,” which ordinarily translates into younger employees. My quest would be tougher than the same challenge a decade earlier.

Too, my salary had been at a high level I wasn’t sure I could match. And I was racing against time, as my severance package would last just a few months.

Like you, I felt like launching a counterattack, starting with, “You’ve had your say, now you’re going to listen to what I really think about you and everybody else in management.”

What stopped me? An inner voice told me that combative response would only make my situation worse. Whether my firing was justifiable or not, I would need positive references. A potential employer might ask my HR Director, “Did Bill leave a good impression there?” Then too, spiteful words would rule out possibilities of eventually asking for an extension of benefits.

Poll: How do you feel about crying at work?

Poll: How do you feel about crying at work?