The Shock of Being Let Go
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Dale and Deb KreienkampDale Kreienkamp is the President & CEO of Thriving Through Transitions, a consultancy focused on helping individuals and organizations successfully navigate difficult, personal and professional, transitions and become better through the process. His professional background includes over 40+ years as a Human Resources Executive and Consultant, coaching and guiding leaders. He is a speaker, and the author of How Long, O Lord, How Long? Devotions for the Unemployed and Those Wh...more
Dale Kreienkamp talks about the variety of emotions a person feels after being laid off. He reminds those who are unemployed that it’s going to be okay, but it will be hard, with emotional highs and lows. Ultimately, you’ll see God’s hand of provision in your life.
The Shock of Being Let Go
Bob: Dale Kreienkamp spent many years as the head of Human Resources for a large company. That company was facing a layoff; 25 people were going to be let go. It was Dale’s job to have to break the news.
Dale: I was with my Chief Operating Officer, who I reported to at the time; he was with us about a year. He stood behind his chair and said, “Thank you.” And then he said, “Oh, by the way, your name is on the list.” And in those six little words, I became the 26th person. For me, I’d been there for 25 years; so six words ended 25 years.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, October 26th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. A lot of people in the last several months have experienced what Dale experienced—being laid off from a long-time job. How do you deal with that? We’ll talk with Dale about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You’ve never had this happen; I’ve had this happen to me.
Dave: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Bob: It was a Monday morning; I came to work, working at a radio station. The boss said, “Can you come into the office for a moment?” I said, “Sure.” I came into his office and sat down. He took a deep breath and sighed and said, “I’ve decided it’s in your best interest and in the best interest of the station for us to let you go,”—completely out of the blue.
Ann: You had no idea.
Bob: No clue. I’d been salesman of the month two months before; it was just a complete stunner/shocker. Called my wife and said, “I’m going to be home early today, and be there tomorrow, and be there the next day.”
Ann: Did you have kids at the time?
Bob: Oh, yes; in fact, we had one. We found out, a month later, Mary Ann was pregnant with number two.
Ann: So that’s even more scary.
Bob: It was disorienting; right?
Then, a couple years later, another situation: I had an employer call and say, “We don’t think this is working out.” What I learned is that he had hired me for a job; the guy he really wanted for the job was not available. Nine months later, the guy he really wanted for the job became available. The fact that it wasn’t working out was really the other thing was working out.
I’ve been through—you’ve never—
Dave: Yes; the first thought I had was that I had a job in high school—Ann doesn’t even know this—I was a dishwasher at Marathon Oil Company in Finley, Ohio. I got fired because I wasn’t a very good dishwasher. [Laughter]
Ann: I didn’t know that!
Dave: I was 16; it was one of my first jobs ever; I loved it. Anyway, I guess I wasn’t very good at it. I think I was there about a week.
Ann: I’ve told my kids—that if I were their boss, I would fire them, many times. [Laughter]
Dave: I’ve heard her say that. They had a lawn business: the Wilson Boys’ Lawn and Deck Business. She would be out there, yelling at them, “You’re the worst workers!”
Ann: No, I didn’t say that. [Laughter] But I did say, “I would fire you today if I could!” [Laughter]
Bob: A lot of our listeners, over the last 12 months, have had this new experience/this unexpected experience of finding themselves disoriented because they’re no longer working, where they thought they were secure and ensconced. We’re going to spend some time digging into that today with an old friend.
Dave: This is sort of exciting. We’ve got a buddy, from high school, of Bob Lepine’s.
Ann: Did you guys graduate the same year?
Bob: Yes; same year, yes. This is Dale Kreienkamp. Dale, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Bob: Dale’s wife Deb is joining us. Welcome.
Deb: Thank you.
Bob: We were Class of ’74 back at Kirkwood High School in St. Louis.
Dave: Home of the Fighting—
Dave: Did you guys know each other?
Bob: We did. It was a big class; we had 800 people in our graduating class. There were some people you knew really well, and some people you knew because—I don’t remember; do you know if we had classes together?
Dale: We had some classes, but not much.
Bob: It’s one of those—
Dave: All I want to know is: “Dale, did you know Bob? Tell us about Bob; what was his reputation?”
Ann: You have any dirt/anything?
Bob: Our listeners are not interested in this.
Dale: Bob was the coolest kid. [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, Dale! We needed a little dirt.
Bob: That was the best $20 I ever spent, right there—was to slip that to Dale and say—
Dave: He had a band; he had hair; right?
Dale: He did have hair. [Laughter]
Dave: He did have hair; that’s what you remember. [Laughter]
Dale: We all did, back then.
Bob: Yes. Dale, has, since graduation, gone on—you spent 25/30 years in the health care industry; is that right?
Dale: Actually, closer to 40, with two different organizations.
Bob: —and involved in HR.
Bob: You’ve been on both sides of this issue we’re talking about. You’ve had to call people into your office and say, “I’m sorry; this isn’t working out.”
Bob: You’ve had your employer call you in and say, “We’re making a shift.”
Bob: You know a little bit about the disorientation we’re talking about.
Dale: Oh, absolutely.
Bob: When did it dawn on you, as part of your career, that this is a significant, life-altering moment in anybody’s life, when what they thought was solid is no longer solid underneath them?
Dale: I think it was relatively early in my career. As we began to make some changes, periodically, I would get involved in that. It’s not one of those things they taught you in school in terms of, “Okay; here’s how we say goodbye to people.” For me, it became very important, not only how we said goodbye, but “How do we support those people as they exit?”
Most often, they did nothing wrong. These were people that were faithful to the organization/ faithful to the work that they did. For whatever set of circumstances, often economic, there just wasn’t the need that there was before; and we needed to make a decision, and we needed to make a move.
Bob: It’s a different situation if you’re terminating for cause.
Bob: But if there’s a downsize, or if there’s a change in direction, and you’ve got good, faithful people, and you’re having to say, “This doesn’t work for the corporate objective anymore,” that’s got to be: “Who wants that job?”/“Who wants your job?” is what I’m thinking. [Laughter]
Dale: Nobody wanted it; nobody wanted it. It’s not one that you’ll ever get people, who walk up to you and say, “Thank you; you did that really nice.” That’s not what happens. I’ve had people come back later and say, “You did about the best that you could. I was angry, but not at you; it was the circumstances.”
Sometimes it’s even the source of blame—when something happens to us, we want to blame somebody: “Who do we blame?” We’re going to blame the people that had the conversation with us.
Dave: —the middle man/the messenger.
Bob: As you process this—in fact, you’ve written a book/a very helpful book—a devotional for people who are unemployed and for those who are married to the unemployed—it’s a book called How Long, O Lord, How Long? Psalm 13, I think, is the one that starts out, “How long, O Lord, how long will you forget me?” It’s that whole feeling: you talk about anger, and anxiety, and embarrassment, your sense of identity, purpose, your self-confidence, your questioning, despair.
Ann: —just a few things. [Laughter]
Bob: This triggers such a range of emotion.
Dale: Yes, it really does; and they aren’t emotions that people think they’re going to experience when they get that message.
Bob, when you were told, “We no longer need you. We’re making a change/a decision…” we often think: “Okay; I’ll find something,” “This will be good; I’ve got it,” “I’m in control; we’re fine,”—all of that.
Then, as time goes on—especially if that journey lasts longer than you expect it to—because we often have expectations that are, “Okay; I’ll find something in three months.” If you’re four months into it, you’re starting to say, “Okay; what’s wrong with me?” Those emotions creep in, and we don’t know what to do with them. We even deny that they’re really there. Those emotions are what can trip us up.
Bob: Yes; let’s go back to the moment when the earthquake happens/when the explosion goes off. What’s going on in somebody’s heart and soul in that moment when they’re trying to process what just happened?
Dale: I think the first thing I’ll say is that it’s shock. For most people, it is shock. Even if you had an understanding that it could happen, it’s still the shock that it did happen. All of a sudden, it’s the reality that it changes. Mine was probably, in some ways, like a lot of other people, yet a little bit different because I’m on both sides of that equation.
I was at a large medical center. As head of Human Resources, I had three responsibilities, going into a restructuring. We made the decision that 25 leaders were going to lose their job, and it was going to happen the following Monday. I had to prepare those leaders to have the conversations with those 25 people. I had to figure out: “How do we support those 25 people that got that unexpected message of: ‘I don’t have a job’?” And then: “How do we communicate to an organization”—which had 4,000 employees; probably 1,000 on the medical staff/volunteers—“what does this mean?” Because once that gets announced, everybody’s saying, “What’s next? What does this mean?”
I was with my Chief Operating Officer, who I reported to at the time; he was with us about a year. He was the one pushing this. I kind of laid out, “Here are all the plans.” He stood behind his chair and said, “Thank you.” And then he said, “Oh, by the way, your name is on the list.” And in those six little words, I became the 26th person. Then he said, “You can stay through this event next week and finish your work if you want. If you want to leave today, I’ll figure out how to deal with it”; and he walked out the door.
Dave: Wow; really?
Ann: So Deb, he comes home that night.
Dave: —or that day. Did you walk out that day?
Dale: No, I stayed. I wanted to make sure that we did that well/that we handled that as best we could. I think I called her.
Deb: My heart just sank. And it sank for him and for me. I felt like he was so stressed in the job that this was God talking to him that he needed to get out of there. But then it was the reality of the emotions and everything that put us on this rollercoaster of: “What’s next?”
Bob: When you got the call, your first impulse wasn’t a panic: “How are we going to pay the bills?” or “What’s going to happen?” or “How does this affect me?” You were thinking, “How does this affect my husband?—
Deb: Oh, yes; oh, yes.
Bob: —“his emotions?—his sense of self-dignity?”—all of that.
Deb: Yes, definitely.
Bob: Is that common, do you think, Dale—for a wife or a spouse, who learns about their husband or wife getting fired, do they react with empathy; or do they react with protection for themselves?—or maybe both impulses are there.
Dale: I think it depends upon that relationship and where it is.
Ann: —and I think the character of the man. I’m looking at you, Deb, and I think, “You trusted Dale in terms of his character, his provision, and who he was, as a man and a man of God.” Is that kind of true?
Deb: Definitely; definitely. I knew he was altogether—I knew that he cared about the people; I knew that he worked so hard—that he would find something else. But I knew it would be so hurtful, because he loved the organization.
Dave: I’m guessing not every wife responds as admirably as Deb did.
Dale: No; no they don’t. [Laughter]
For me, I’d been there 25 years; so 6 words ended 25 years. I had more or less grown up there. There was a lot to process as well as trying to figure out: “How do we still hold it together to make it good for the people we had to meet with and do?”
Bob: And in the back of your mind, had you thought at all, with the 25 people being removed, that maybe your job was on the bubble?
Dale: I’ve always known that; but again, the project the year before, and this Chief Operating Officer was looking at efficiency statistics. My division was in the top ten percent of every benchmark we looked at, so it wasn’t like you’d have a reason. Ultimately, he told me later—he said, “You have a great team, and you have a good number too. You make more money than them, so I’m saving money.”
Ann: Walk us through the stages in the emotions that you went through. I’m assuming you were angry and hurt, especially at first, or maybe shocked.
Dale: I was hurt. I was hurt because I had given my life to that place. To see it end that way just didn’t seem right.
Ann: I’m angry for you. [Laughter]
Dale: Then, it’s: “How do you tell people?” I had a meeting the following Monday with my staff. The rumors started to swirl that there was something else going on that was coming up. That was hard to tell people that had come from other organizations to work for me, or that I had brought into their career and mentored. All of a sudden to say that “I’m not going to be here,” was hard.
Did my position—so Dave, let’s go to you—there’s only so many football teams that have chaplains. If you really wanted to continue a career as a chaplain, where are you going to go to do football as a chaplain?
Dave: All the other teams were calling me. Just that day, they all started calling. [Laughter]
Dale: “He’s available,” “He’s available!”
Ann: —because you had such a winning record. [Laughter]
Dave: I had such a great winning record; nobody was calling.
Dale: We were one of the top 35 employers in the metropolitan area, so you knew the type of job that I had. Those don’t grow on trees. I wanted to stay in St. Louis: that’s where family was; that’s where kids and everybody else were. At that time, we had two sons in college and one in private high school. These were what we call the heavy cash-flow years.
Dave: Oh! Yes!
Ann: We’re feeling it for you. [Laughter]
Dale: There’s just so much that goes through your head at that point in time.
Bob: I remember, when I got fired the first time from a job, first of all, calling Mary Ann. In the back of my mind, I thought, “Is she going to think there’s something defective about me? Is she going to think, ‘What did you do? This is your fault’”? I’m feeling the weight of keeping my job is my responsibility, and I just dropped the ball. “Is she going to think less of me as a husband?” Then, telling friends.
Ann: —it’s embarrassing.
Bob: Sure, it’s embarrassing. They say, “What happened?” There’s this instinct to want to say, “It wasn’t me; I didn’t….” But you also don’t want to be saying, “Well, this lousy company...” It’s a very awkward place to be.
Dale: And people don’t talk about it, Bob; that is the challenge. That’s why unemployment is kind of the elephant in the room. People know about it, but the person who loses their job doesn’t talk about it.
Dave: And why is that?
Dale: I think it’s the embarrassment/the shame that it happened. I got cut from the baseball team in high school. It was before social media, so I didn’t have anything to post; but I wasn’t going to come home, pick up the phone and start calling all my friends to say, “Hey, guys; I got cut from the baseball team.” You let that information drift out when it can. People just don’t talk about it; they just kind of let it go.
Those conversations aren’t easy conversations. How do you say, “I’m okay”?—because you know they’re worried about you. How do you say, “I don’t know what’s next, but I’m okay with that,” even when maybe I’m not okay with that because you’re trying to reassure other people. We have this instinct to want to reassure everybody that we’re okay. Then, inside, you’re going, “What’s next? I don’t know!”
Dave: I was looking at the back of your book: the Kubler Ross Change Curve. I’m looking/I’m thinking, “At the very beginning, shock, confusion, fear, denial; and then anger—and it keeps going.” I’ve been there. I’m sure you were there; I’m sure you were there.
One thing that was interesting—being in the Lions locker room for 33 seasons—is watching players get fired. They call it “cut” in the NFL, but it’s fired. It’s traumatic for these young men.
Ann: We also had a son that had gone through it—three times?
Dave: Yes; Cody played for the Lions—our youngest—and was fired three different times and rehired. He has four different Detroit Lions jersey numbers; because each time he came back, they gave him a different number. Three of them were injuries, and he healed and came back. Watching him go through it/but watching players go through it—all that—there’s shock; there’s confusion.
I can remember being in locker rooms before games. Guys would be all fired up; I’d walk over and go, “Dude, man, you are like ready to go.” He goes, “They cut me last year—that team cut me!” I’m like, “Oh, this is more than just ‘I want to win a football game’; ‘I’m going to prove to my old employer that they never should have fired me.’” It’s anger in a locker room.
You experienced that. Everybody experiences that—right?—that confusion, that shock, that fear. Here’s the big one I want to know about: fear. There’s real fear that you feel, especially as a man, if you’re a provider: “I have to provide.”
Ann: —and a woman/even a single mom.
Dave: There you go.
Dale: I think that is the interesting thing. There is a lot of single parents that are losing jobs. They’re by themselves, which is exceptionally hard on them. Fear is there, because we love certainty. Being unemployed is uncertain.
If I told you, “Ann, you’ve lost your job; but you’re going to have a new job in four months,” you’d say, “Okay; that’s longer than I want; but mentally, I can handle it.” There’s just uncertainty as to when that’s going to be/when it’s going to happen.
We don’t know when it’s going to happen—that brings in the fear as you try and figure it out. People then go into what I call the “will” questions. They start saying to themselves: “Will I ever find another job?” “Will it pay as much as the last job?” “Will I be successful?” “Will I have to move to another city?” “Will I lose my house?” There aren’t answers for those questions.
When I talk to people about it, I tell them—I saw a poster one time; which was really good—it said: “Worry is a conversation we have with ourselves about things we can’t change. Prayer is a conversation with God about things that He can.” It’s a reminder to people that: “In the midst of those fears, we’ve got to give it to God; because we can’t do it. We don’t have the answers.”
Bob: How did your faith help you in the midst of this earthquake that was going on?
Dale: If I didn’t have it—and I didn’t have Deb—I would have been a basket case. [Laughter] It did/it starts to attack everything. One of the worst things we do is we compare. If the four of us were in the same organization, and we all were told on the same day our jobs are gone—which has happened to a lot of people today with COVID—if Dave finds a job in three months, and you find a job in four months, and Ann in five—and I’m still there at six—I’m going, “What’s wrong with me? Why did they get a job, and I didn’t get a job?” It tears at the fabric of who we are. That’s when the confidence starts to fall.
Dave: We’ve got somebody sitting right now, listening to this broadcast, either on a radio station or a podcast, they’re out of work or furloughed because of COVID or other reasons for, maybe, months. What would you say to them?
Dale: “It’s going to be okay; God’s got you. But you’re going to go through some difficult times. This is a roller coaster, so strap yourself in. It is going to be emotional highs and lows that you don’t expect. But God’s got you; He’s not going to let you fall. Out of this, you’re going to look back, and you’re going to be amazed at His hand in it; but when you’re in the barrel, it’s not going to be easy. But God’s got you.”
Bob: I’ve looked back on the two firings and can see now that, in both of those situations, I wound up somewhere better that I never would’ve gone on my own. It was God dislodging me from where I would’ve stayed because of what He had next for me. You can’t see that in the moment.
Dave: No; I’m thinking the same thing. I’m sitting in this chair right here with Ann at FamilyLife Today because I’m not working with the Lions. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do both. At the moment, I was like, “I can’t believe they fired the best chaplain in the NFL! [Laughter] What were they thinking?”
Dale: Everybody is wondering that. [Laughter]
Dave: But here we are; God had a plan behind the whole thing.
Bob: Yes; this is where, in the moment, to have someone who can coach you in the midst of what you’re going through, I think it’s so helpful. And this, Dale, is why I love what you’ve done in the devotional you’ve written: How Long, O Lord, How Long?: Devotions for the Unemployed and Those Who Love Them. This is such an important book.
We want to make it available this week to any of our listeners who can make a donation to help support the work of FamilyLife Today. Your donations make these kind of conversations possible. You help us reach hundreds of thousands of people every day with practical biblical help and hope for the challenges they face in their marriages and in their families—the challenges like the challenge of being unemployed. When you make a donation today, be sure to request your copy of the book, How Long, O Lord, How Long?
Let me say—you ought to get a copy of this book and pass it on to someone you know who has been laid off. Help them out—reach out and give them a gift—a copy of Dale’s book. Again, the book is our way of saying, “Thanks,” when you make a donation to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Request it when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to donate or when you call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow. We’re going to talk about how our job is connected to our sense of self and how we can experience some real emotional disequilibrium when we lose a job. Dale Kreienkamp will be back, again, with us tomorrow. I hope you can be with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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