Rumination and Anxiety during a Career Change: How to Deal With It?
Losing a job is not always a welcome change. While others look forward to a new career outside the organization, there are others who are in pain to see themselves go. It is a mix of organizational changes that necessitate the interplay of a phenomenon or a life event and human responses to the change event. Over the years I observed among employees who were affected by the organizational changes, have experienced rumination and anxiety and they manifest (oftentimes) unknowingly or unconsciously. Assuming an HR role, it is essential to see this through while balancing the support to the management’s decisions. But, let us understand more about what are rumination and anxiety? And how do these two differ? What are the healthy ways of managing these two human responses at work? My aim for this article is to give us guidance on how to understand, validate, and/or navigate these two feelings of employees in the context of a career change, should this event ever happen to us (or have gone already!).
By definition according to an American Psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema who works on mood regulation strategies, said that ‘rumination’ or post-event is a response to distress where an individual passively and continuously thinks of the cause of their distress while failing to solve or eliminate the cause. In the process of rumination, the individual repetitively goes through the reviews of the situation by focusing on the negative aspects of the situation, such as the causes, meaning, and implication of the source of the distress. Particularly, it is most commonly observable during a change experience when an employee goes through a so-called “career transition.” It is a period from an exit from a previous job to an entry of a new experience whether deciding to work full time or go into entrepreneurship or do both. This ‘journey’ of the transition is considered to be the most critical and immensely daunting due to many things that has happened in the past. People in this space deeply recalls events and relationships as a way to deal with realities at hand.
Many times, over, when speaking to employees who were notified of their termination, their narratives were rich reflections of their working relationships with co-workers in the past, skills they have learned, accomplishments earned, and some good and bad experiences within the company. Research revealed that continuous rumination of a certain social event will affect the individual’s memory due to their repetitive reconstructing of the memory for the event so that it could fit their negative self-image and interpretation of social situations (Kandris et al, 2007; Brozovich & Heimberg, 2011). This means that the more individuals dwell on something, they are more likely to remember these events or situations in a bad light even though there was no such intention, to begin with. Rumination, therefore, simply put, dwells on the past orientation and when this continuous for a long time, a person have not really moved on.
On the other hand, there is anxiety that dwells on future events. “Anxiety” is generally defined in psychological terminology as a displeasing feeling of ‘fear and concert’ as a presence (or absence) of psychological stress. Anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness, and dread about a situation that is yet to happen. According to American Psychological Association, anxiety is not the same as fear, but they are often used interchangeably. Anxiety is considered a future-oriented, long-acting response broadly focused on a diffuse threat, whereas fear is an appropriate, present-oriented, and short-lived response to a clearly identifiable and specific threat. During the separation period of employment employees typically contemplate or think about their future career or immediate steps. Employees tend to be at a loss just thinking about what would be the next best move to take as the best option for their career. Oftentimes, this space is accompanied with myriad of future issues related to finances, living condition, health concerns, and other unmet goals, and/or future travel plans.
For employees who become extremely anxious, disoriented, and agitated, as if trying to make sense of things (under ruminative conditions) and how to move forward without knowing where to go (under anxious condition) are the ones who have not entirely anticipated the changes in their job role they once assumed. Notwithstanding this, both of these conditions, rumination (past events), and anxiety (future events) play an important role that may trigger dangerous mechanisms which may lead to depression.
There are ebbs and flows of these feelings during career change. Whether these employees had “hunches” of a foreseen retrenchment, or have had some level of awareness, or were totally clueless, yet almost always, employees have experienced rumination and anxiety in some form. To better understand how the idea of managing these challenging behaviors of rumination and anxiety, below are the most common scenarios for HR management to take on in ushering counseling or coaching interventions to aid employees achieve a mood-lifting experience:
Ruminating and Anxious Behaviors
1. The “NR” (No Reaction) effect
The employee does not seem visibly bothered by the idea of the loss of stable income and the concept of having to apply again for able employment soon, despite all the uncertainties one will soon face. The employee seems unaffected by being let go and unable to process the information about the finality of his/her employment.
Ask the employee about his/her career options, and if these are not clear yet, allow the employee to internalize and process the information as well as his/her feelings about the situation. Verify the issues surrounding the employment separation, but keep the focus on the desired picture as to what will be his/her next best career while injecting transition program services that will aid the employee on how to get there.
2. The denial tantrums
The employee is in a persistent state of disbelief as if the separation notification is not real. They remain under the comforting illusion that they are too “busy” to attend to their usual tasks at hand and trying to “wrap things up,” but continue to avoid contact with HR personnel or career transition coaches as much as possible. They are in total defiance of the situation and unconsciously evade instructions. They may eventually see the “brighter” side of things, but will initially fail to accept the idea of separation from employment.
Process the information with the employee by pulling back to the realities of what is really going on. Prod them with questions that will trigger the realization of the finality of their separation. Allow them to freely talk and surface their issues as to why they feel that way, and at the same time, guide them in their career transition program. The coaching experience usually touches on critical decision points which included families who will be affected by the separation. This realization eventually prompts employees to keep their preferential focus on the situation of moving on. The reality sinks into their system on how to tell their loved ones of their employment situation, thus becoming the ‘triggering’ moment about the need to face the realities head-on.
3. The dismissive treatment
The employee is very quiet, and unresponsive, answers question sparingly, does not elaborate feelings, and appears to be internalizing, yet is oftentimes just blankly staring or spacing out. Most times, they are seen as distracted and aloof.
Constantly ask for permission in presenting ideas or giving pieces of advice to recheck the employees’ interest and attention. Allow space and time to contemplate. Explain to them the clear program of the transition services made available to them. A check-in time with a person whom they trust or who is highly influential to them can bring the person to open up.
4. Confused and weary
These employees usually had high hopes for their careers, and are then devastated when suddenly told of the end of their employment. Although this varies depending on the circumstances behind each company, employees typically have trouble absorbing the change in management decisions and develop deep sentiments against management over and over again. This includes going through the motions of blaming a work colleague or worst, the immediate boss.
Listen intently and allow employees to ventilate all confusing issues. Praise and appreciate them for being honest and simply for being able to meet career coaches or counselors, then proceed that will allow them to be more prepared and confident in their next career options. Emphasize the regain of self-confidence and positive outcomes to better see and be in charge of the decision-making process.
5. Angry and revengeful
Employees in this state are ballistic, extremely vocal, try to combat the decision of the management with his/her legal rights, and feel the decision made was unfair and inappropriate. They feel betrayed and let down, with the general sentiment that the company has given no value to their contributions while they were employed.
Allow the employee to vent and express all the angst they have in their system. Keep them within the confines of the changes as a reality in the business operation. Spot their stressors and guide them on how to accept and manage them effectively. Ask questions that will make them see the value of moving on. For example, reflecting upon the earned skills over the years are valuable and useful for their next employment.
The encompassing truth behind all these career changes is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing human behavior. The fact is, one cannot simply second guess what the probable reactions at each moment of ending employment will be. Even those who resign in good faith have moments of separation anxiety. As previously highlighted, employees affected by downsizing tend to go through the twin concepts of rumination and anxiety. These usually cannot be avoided; thus, separation actions are rarely taken well. However, highly adaptative management that values its people during turbulent times of change is a highly valuable strategy in ensuring the continuity of a business and the balance of the mental health of employees.
Career changes can be stressful and bring up feelings of anxiety and rumination, but it's important to remember that these emotions are normal and can be managed with the right tools and strategies. The article provides practical tips and exercises for managing these emotions, including breathing techniques and mindfulness practices. It's important to take the time to try these exercises and find what works best for you. Remember to be kind and patient with yourself during this process, and seek professional help if needed. A therapist or career counselor can provide additional support and guidance. Finally, know that you are not alone in this experience. Many people go through career changes and struggle with these emotions. By taking steps to manage them, you can emerge from the experience with greater confidence and resilience.
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