This week a friend asked if I’d talk to her brother who’s struggling with a workplace dilemma. She told me a little about his situation and my first reaction was that it sounded as if he’s dealing with anticipatory grief, unrelated to death, but a loss just the same.
This sweet man, fifteen years into a successful career, made the difficult decision to move on from his current position and while he won’t miss a moment of the madness that sits within the doomsday-ish corporate culture he’s withstood, he’s feeling unsettled as he thinks about the loss of his work family and friends.
He is fortunate in many ways and he knows it. He’s single, financially solvent and taking the option to depart – without his next gig in sight – would never have crossed his mind a few years ago. He was too devoted to his workplace and the colleagues he’s thought of as life-long friends. But something happened during the pandemic, he says. I nod, yes, indeed – so many things have changed – enormous loss of life, first and foremost and alterations that we’re only beginning to understand related to culture and society.
When I shared that thought his cheeks flushed and I worried that my tone sounded dismissive. I felt terrible, but he quickly apologized and said he wasn’t trying to be insensitive. He knows he hasn’t suffered as others have, but he struggles, nonetheless. A global pandemic upended the world, but he expected his work life would resume in ways familiar. Resetting to ‘as it was’.
He also recognized his colleagues with children were struggling with e-learning and new hurdles during Covid madness but he figured the relief of ‘return to work’ a few days a week would ignite former friendships and allegiances.
I tread lightly. He clearly didn’t grasp the magnitude of stress on parents and the reasons why many of his colleagues (parents or not) continue to work from home, if they can. It’s not about him…but he’s internalized their decisions, thinking he’s no longer valued as a friend. I see him as sad, unaware, innocent. And naïve?
Making matters worse, structural resetting is occurring in his workplace and it’s not pretty. His company experienced explosive growth, record-breaking profits, and a hiring boom during the pandemic, in part because the business is tied to “home goods” – meeting the needs of people captive and nesting in their safe havens. When the world opened up, sales plummeted….and the layoffs began.
Repetitive rounds of restructuring became the norm. An ever-shifting organizational structure pitted former colleagues and confidantes against one another. Or as he puts it, everyone put their armor on and no one knows who to trust, adding to his anxiety and feelings of loneliness.
I’m not sure what he’ll do next, career-wise. He’s talented and ambitious but he’s floundering at the moment as he sorts out his mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness about what lies ahead. I offered a few suggestions – steps he can take to ease his stress – and I’m hoping he’ll follow up on a referral for on-going support during this challenging time.
Moving on in life isn’t easy. Losing work friends who feel like extensions of family is a loss and he’s not alone. The F. Scott Fitzgerald quote is one that I lean into when I want to feel hopeful, despite feeling rattled by change. It’s never too late to have courage.
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