Re-Entry: Creating a Soft Landing

In the last couple of months, I have been working with several new clients who are re-entering the workplace after having been laid off. Most are near retirement age and some were released just before they could receive the maximum benefits. Many of these layoffs happened as companies merged or down-sized in order to deal with the changing financial landscape or new technology solutions reducing their manpower requirement. Some workers have been unemployed for a couple of years and have survived on unemployment insurance benefits. It has helped if there was a spouse who was still employed during this time. What I have found with these new clients is that they had planned on working a few more years and retiring from the company that they felt loyal to.

One of the main focuses of my work with these clients is helping them navigate their emotions and experience of loss, grief, abandonment and often anger and resentment. Many of these workers have finally found new jobs, but usually with less prestige and lower pay. They are competing with younger workers for entry-level jobs and once hired find that they will also be supervised by younger people as well. Moving to a new organization with the common negative feelings associated with being laid off can cause them to not transition well and potentially “crash and burn.” My challenge as a consultant is to help them to create a soft landing. How is this possible? What needs to happen to create success in their new position and in their lives?

Probably the biggest challenge for the re-entry worker is to find ways to dissipate the anger. One of the chief causes of anger is the difference between the current reality or situation and our expectations. It’s not the new employer’s fault. In dealing with angry feelings, it helps to be clear about what actually happened and the interpretation of the situation, which is usually the source of angry or resentful feelings. Once these workers understand why they are angry, it is easier to change their thinking, feelings, and behavior to produce more positive results. In the book When Anger Hurts, the authors McKay, Rogers, and McKay suggest keeping an “anger journal.” Then, you can analyze your anger and identify triggers and stressors that cause you to become angry and seek alternatives to solving a well-identified problem instead of creating explosive chaos which drives others away. This approach can be used to build skills for more assertive problem-solving, including:

  1. Identifying and combatting trigger thoughts
  2. Controlling stress
  3. Stopping escalation
  4. Coping through healthy self-talk
  5. Response choice rehearsal
  6. Problem-solving communication

Managing anger is the first step to a safe landing as someone re-enters the work force. This approach promotes cooperation instead of division and an attitude of helpfulness and commitment to continue to grow in a new setting or organization. Leaving the past behind and embracing the excitement and possibility of what’s happening NOW makes all the difference.

Next, the prospective worker must learn to accept and deal with change. One person told me that she would have been excited if this had happened to her when she was 26 instead of now when she is 62. She would have embraced the challenge of working hard and setting goals to move up in the firm to a higher position. Now, she is just angry about feeling pushed out of a high-level position so that the company could save money. We worked on her changing her goal to fit her new job, lifestyle and priorities and consider other ways to use her skill set in other areas of her life. She also had set aside some of her personal goals earlier in her career due to the demands of the job. Now, she can reconsider doing some of those things that she previously gave up. With a less demanding position, she is free to develop hobbies she’d ignored instead of working overtime. She wasn’t required to travel anymore and could spend more time with her family and get involved in community projects she had wanted to do before but didn’t have the time or energy left to do. We worked together to explore how she can use this experience to create changes in her life that bring more happiness, a sense of accomplishment, and a future plan that can work.

Have you made changes in your work life that you would identify as a “re-entry” event? Are you supervising new staff or have clients with employees who feel angry and betrayed by a previous employer? How can you help contribute and use their skill sets in their new position and support them through this change? Please share your thoughts and ideas.

With Warm Regards,

Sylvia


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