The Five Stages of Employment Grief

— Chelsea ♥

It’s been 4 days since my employer decided not to negotiate with me, or even discuss the reason I wanted to leave or discuss my reason for emailing my staff in an outburst. But this isn’t about my resignation; oh no - contrary to popular belief, this is about the aftermath. What happens when a workaholic no longer works?

The Five Stages of Employment Grief:

  • Day One: There’s no way they will survive without me. They’ll come crawling back and I’m just gonna say screw it.
  • Day Two: I can’t believe they are going to replace me with that one coworker who sucked at his job. There are so many things he can’t do.
  • Day Three: Alright, this has gone on long enough. I’m sure that if I finish out my duties someone will come calling me, practically wishing I would return.
  • Day Four: Well, this sucks. What the heck am I going to do now?
  • Day Five: I guess I have to let go…

No one ever warns you when you resign from a job of just how loud the silence is. When you’re employed at a place for so long your coworkers - the good and bad, become a part of your life whether you like it or not. You talk trash together, laugh together and get angry about new changes together. They become like your family. So when you leave your employer, you don’t miss or grieve for the work. You grieve for the humanity that seems lost. Your phone rings just a little bit less. The once familiar daily struggle to get the copier to work leaves you. You realize that you spent so much of your time on your work that without it - you have no idea who you are, what kind of things you like.

You start to question your reasoning and sanity. In the morning when you wake up you feel excited for the day. You get up at your usual time out of habit and routine. You have your morning coffee. You prepare for the day as if you have someplace to be. You prepare as if you are needed. You catch up on social media feeds and brush off your resume. You try to articulate as best you can all that you have accomplished, but it just seems so… self-serving. By noon you have a slight feeling of accomplishment for the day since you have sent out your resume, checked up on the news, did a little bit of yoga. Now what? Clean? But your home is not messy, so you make a mess. After all, there’s no rush to clean because you never invite anyone over anyway.

By 2 PM, your daily dose of anxiety and self-doubt kicks in. You analyze everything about your choice and you ultimately know that you made the right move. You did make the right move, did you not? There’s no one to consult with anymore regarding your choices - after all, your coworkers were the people you spent the majority of your time with. But they weren’t your friends or family. They were just people you worked with. So why do you feel like you’re completely and utterly alone?

The truth is, work is like any complex relationship. No one tells you that it can feel like a messy divorce. No one warns you of self-doubt. No one tells you that you will feel a slight emptiness. Not because of the place you worked. But because of the people who made your day. From the casual banter with others in your role about how you want to make real change, to the delicate flirting with the unattainable that we are ALL guilty of. The people you work with no longer have a reason to talk to you. Even if you have found a common interest - you know deep down that you don’t want to become attached.

By nightfall, you feel like a failure. You try your best not to snoop on your coworkers' lives, or get involved in any way. You don’t want to accidentally “like” something that they have posted in order to not seem like a stalker or creep. You feel conflicted watching your coworkers move forward with a purpose while you feel like you have no purpose. You shower until the water is cold. You would give anything to feel numb. Despite your best efforts, you realize that this same feeling has happened to you before. Before you resigned - you were stressed out, because of your pride you tried your best to keep it together. But the workload got heavier, and your coworkers needed you more. You had a purpose. Albeit, convoluted and distorted - but purpose. You knew you couldn’t take on any more - but if certain people asked you to do things you would always come through. You were known to be reliable, dependable. You could handle it. Whatever anyone threw at you, you could handle it.

But it was far from the truth. It was the lie that you knew. Everyone puts so much weight on your shoulders that you had no room for yourself. You dove into your work and forgot about your mental health, physical health, and your dreams. You focused on fixing everything for everyone else. As long as you smiled no one would know just how much you wanted to scream that you couldn’t keep doing everything.

No one would know that when you made a mistake you replayed that mistake in your head every single day for months at a time, sometimes years. No one understood that they added to the perfectionist that you were. No one could know that words like, “ You can do anything, you’re amazing, You're great at everything” only feed the monster known as doubt. The more people told you how great you were, the more you felt yourself unraveling. The pressure to perform and be perfect at everything started to take root.

The roots that grew from being excellent. You started to demand excellence, not just of yourself, but of those around you. You know the only way to kill the perfectionist is to break her. So you did the only thing any person of reason would do-you killed her lover known as ego. You spoke the truth to those who needed to hear it. You regretted nothing, yet somehow everything.

This is why work can be the most emotionally abusive relationship. When you leave, every memory that you have had, good or bad is ripped from you. Every human interaction you have ever had feels almost suffocating. You look at your phone contacts and realize 80% of people on your phone are workplace contacts.

In the dead of night - right before you fall asleep - fear and loathing take over. You erase all of your work contacts so that you won't be tempted to message them random TikTok. You don’t miss work. You miss the human connection. No amount of “Great Resignation", the talk will ever prepare you for the gut-wrenching feeling you have left - if you were a workaholic. Emptiness doesn’t even come close.