Navigating Career Storms |

4 min read
Ron Lach / Pexels

Source: Ron Lach / Pexels

Forty percent of people will lose a job at least once in their lifetime, and 23 percent will lose a job three or more times, according to data from the Harris Poll and the National Career Development Association.

In being fired, laid off, or furloughed, many people will experience anxiety. This easily understandable anxiety may increase or decrease in intensity depending on how much money you have in savings, whether this loss also means forfeiting health insurance or needing to relocate to a place with more opportunities. Rebuilding connections and perhaps the skills necessary to secure another position creates more worry and stress.

It also matters if your industry is expanding or contracting, or even relevant anymore, and whether the national or global trend is encouraging job growth.

Career Estrangement: What It Is and Why It Matters

But let’s shine a light on something mostly overlooked regarding career downturns and job losses–estrangement, that loss of belonging.

Freud called to love and work “cornerstones of our humanness.” Many people spend at least as much time awake at work as they do outside. Social relationship networks form around work assignments, and identities are forged and reinforced around job titles and acquired skills.

So, to no longer be on friendly terms, to be escorted out of the building by security, to have lost closeness and affection and the support of co-workers, perhaps respect from members of your profession, is suffering estrangement. As with every type of loss, to grieve it, it’s essential to be able to name it.

Grieving the Loss of a Workplace

The year was 1997. Our youngest son, Kenneth, died in June on the summer solstice, and we sold our professional business in mid-July of that same year. As we signed the papers, the owner and manager of the company who purchased it, who happened to be a social worker, said, “So much grief, Sheila. Seems like a lot, all at the same time.”

It was a lot that needed to be grieved.

Changes in the payment structures in the healthcare industry, referred to as “managed care,” had made it necessary to become part of a larger organization to be able to stay in business. Our behavioral health care clinic, Institute for the Healing Arts, had been a dream come true for the first five years of its operation for my husband and me, a place to birth something new after I failed to get tenure at the university.

Our clinic’s second five years of operation became an example of the nightmare dreams can sometimes turn into. Everything became more challenging, and the therapists who worked for us had trouble accepting the dramatic changes that had transpired in the marketplace.

A change that eventually meant it took 42 steps or behaviors to be completed by a much larger staff between the time a client first called for an appointment and when we would eventually get paid. The clinical services were somewhere around step 35. There was no payment if any steps were missed or out of order.

A social work placement student who worked with us during the managed care transition told me, “It feels like I left the best, close-to-heavenly field placement anyone could ever have and returned to one that must surely be in hell.”

“You get an A,” I told her.

Our purchasers asked us to keep our expertise on board for two years. During the first year, however, a strange thing happened. They brought in their own management and operations team and effectively eliminated the infrastructures and systems we had put in place.

This is not an unusual action for the new owner, but it made us wonder exactly why they bought us in the first place—if not for our expertise and experience. Furthermore, this firm had few women in leadership roles, and I was relegated to a staff position with little influence.

Not surprisingly, after 18 months of trying to put their systems in place, unsuccessfully, they asked us if we wanted to purchase the clinic back from them. We respectfully declined.

Moving On from Career Estrangement

Watching the demise of a workplace that helped many people and created a healing culture was another aspect of grief I learned about. Work and career estrangement, that loss of belonging is not just about losing contact with friends and colleagues, but also losing the connection to our contribution to improving the world.

Like so many others, it is one that I would have preferred to pass upon experiencing, but we have to deal with what life sends our way. It is what dancing with everything is all about.

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours