With this paper, I aim to write an outline for coaching during an outplacement process. Working as an outplacement coach, it became obvious to me that losing a job is a very complex and far-reaching event. Just like every other important phase in our life, it compares to a web composed of many feelings and emotions that are intertwined and interactive.
Coaching people towards new jobs and fulfilling lives therefore requires different approaches considering the moment and the issue at hand.
One of the clear consequences of the worldwide economical crises is the increased number of people losing their job. ‘Victims’ are from all social layers in society and from all age groups. The consequences vary according to the circumstances and the personality of the individual.
The content of this paper hopes to be applicable to coaches of all people who find themselves without a job, but specifically so to coaches of the ‘older’ generation of ex-employees (+45y).
They often are especially hard confronted with a feeling of loss and desperation. Coaching them therefore asks for a broad set of coaching skills and tools. Indeed, if someone loses his job after working 25 years in the same company, his feelings will be most likely more intense and complex than those of a young graduate being fired after a couple of months in his first job. In the first case, the ex-employee not only looses a job, but also an important part of his social environment and even of his identity.
1) Recognising your loss and dealing with it
Of course there is no fixed definition on how people react upon losing their job. Every individual is different and therefore the reaction of this individual will be unique too. However, research has shown that people react to trauma in a certain and predictable way. Trauma is a broad concept but certainly also applies to losing a job.
Typically, people confronted with trauma, go through the following of emotions: shock, anger, denial, doubt, emptiness, recognition, reflection, and finally acceptance and working towards new goals (Curve of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross). The intensity of these emotions can vary, as well as the time needed to move ahead. People also may incur fall-backs along the way, but basically the motions are recognisable for all involved.
In the early stage after being laid-off, a typical reaction is to look for a new job immediately. People want to return to their former situation as soon as possible. Being without a job often brings financial pressure combined with feelings of failure, loss, frustration and even panic.
Immediate action and job applications might indeed work out and re-launch the person very quickly in a new career from where he is able to move on. However, in many cases, a new job is not found immediately. Negative emotions are then allowed to increase while the search for a new job takes all the energy so no proper care is given to the mourning process.
Also, a job quickly found is most likely to be very similar to the one lost, and therefore may represent the same circumstances that led to the firing in the first place. In this way, the new career does not offer a true new beginning but leaves the client in the same precarious situation as before, only this time even more explosive.
A coach can help the client to recognise his feelings, to accept them and to make them more manageable. Understanding that it is ok to feel miserably, may lift an enormous burden.
By being there for the client and through empathic listening, a coach can help his client to open up. In order to reach this goal, the coach needs to listen with his ears, but also, and more importantly – needs to listen with his eyes and with his heart. Only 10% of our communication is represented by the words we say, the other part by more implicit reactions and body language. Paying attention to these 90% provides us, coaches, with extremely valuable information to work with. Often, the client himself is not fully aware of this information.
By not judging nor advising, the very specific and unique characteristics of coaching, a safe environment is provided. The client can let go of his mask and learn to be ok with his situation, miserably as it may be. The coaching session may very well be the only opportunity for the client to be truly himself because he may want to “be strong” for his environment. I’ll come back to this later.
Only after reaching a mindful acceptance of his situation and feelings, the client will be able to move ahead, to come up with solutions which are based on reality and therefore more powerful and value adding.
Underlying beliefs may be especially active in this period of the client’s life. He might see his resignation as a confirmation of slumbering negative self-images. The coach can help to shift these beliefs into more constructive and positive convictions.
Group coaching sessions with peers prove to be very valuable in this stage. Listening and talking to others in similar situations help people to accept and find peace. Realising that he is not alone makes the situation for the client less threatening and can lift a feeling of loneliness.
Of course, it is important to be aware of signs of depression or burnout. If the coach notices any related symptoms, it is important he redirects the client towards professional psychological counselling and therapy
2) Stuck in the victim role
Firstly is it important that the client recognises and accepts his feelings and loss. If not, dealing with these feelings is not even on the agenda.
However, sometimes clients do recognise their emotions, but are still not capable to move ahead because they are stuck in the role of the victim. Indeed, plenty of reasons outside themselves can be found to explain why they were laid off and how this left them powerless and pitiful.
Situations where we have no control over are plenty and easy to use: the worldwide economical crisis, an unreasonable boss, unfair and difficult colleagues, the fast pace of new technology… By focusing on these issues, people become re-active, instead of pro-active. Their deeds and words are those of blaming, accusing, complaining, and most importantly – focused on the outside world. This world is beyond their control, they have no influence over this world and therefore their energy is lost and without effect, but only results in more negativism.
In these situations, it is important to help the client focus on themselves as opposed on the others. Helping him to move towards his own Circle of Influence can be very empowering.
Ask the client to describe what happened to him, but only in terms “being” and not of “having”: What happened? How did you loose your job?