When Your Employer Wants to Break Off the Relationship

Last week, Christine posted a very heartfelt assessment of her struggle to continue on with graduate research although she has lost the fuzzy feelings she once had for it. She convincingly described her relationship with her graduate research project as being similar to one with a person, and how she felt she may be falling out of love with research. Well, what if you’re on the receiving end? It occurred to me that what I and my (now former) colleagues have experienced is more akin to having someone, or rather, something, fall out of love with you. The situation was handled very professionally, and some of us have ended up in better roles (i.e., relationships) as a result. Yes, it’s business, not personal, but you can’t completely avoid the feeling that you’ve been dumped. Not the most positive emotional state to be in when you begin your job search. You need to let go of that, and quick. Don’t cry into your beer. (That’ll just dilute your beer. You’re a scientist, remember? Hello!) If it requires some sort of ritual ceremony to purge yourself of these negative feelings – do it. It is here that I, much as Christine did, feel compelled to point out that this analogy in no way reflects my own relationship status. To illustrate, I will now go into game show contestant mode: “Hi Alex, I’d like to say hi to my beautiful wife of twenty-three years, and my two awesome children, my terrific son and my outstanding daughter, not to mention our three phenomenal cats. Hi everyone, I love you!!” There, I made nice. Okay, I don’t know how valuable my advice might be currently, since I am still "in transition" and have yet to “land” in my next position, but I’m confident that it will all pay off in the end. So, here are things, drawn from various resources and my own thoughts, which keep me sane. Okay, sane-ish. Don’t bad-mouth your ex. You need to take the high road – yes, you can “just be friends.” It’s your choice, though – but just see what happens if you trash talk your past employer in a job interview with another company. Yeah, that will help. They’ll see your baggage the minute you walk in the door. You might as well walk in naked and speaking in tongues. The end result will be the same. No job…and possibly some jail time. Don’t be a stalker. Seriously, what do you have to gain by looking at job postings at your former employer? Yes, they will begin hiring again, for different disciplines and/or in other locations if it’s a multi-site organization. It’s probably part of their corporate restructuring. Gnashing your teeth and holding a grudge about such things will just sap your energy in your job search. Keep moving forward. Don’t look back, lest you become a pillar of salt. Seek to help others. It’s counterproductive to constantly ask others to help you out. Yes, of course people want to help and to see you succeed. But sometimes, there’s only so much they can do. Ask how you can help them, even if it's just to hear them out. This will reflect positively back on you, and if you can provide help to someone, you’ll feel better about yourself. This boost to your self-esteem will help you come across as someone who is positive (and you might actually become positive), thus enhancing your attractiveness…as a prospective employee. Avoid negative people. It’s next to impossible to stay positive continuously though something like this, and you will have bad days. But there are some who seem to never be positive. They violate the tenets spelled out above, regardless of your best efforts to show them the way. It’s admirable to help others, no question. But, if after a few attempts, you can’t seem to pull them out of their funk and get them to move forward, steer clear unless their attitude changes for the better. They’re just going to suck you dry and drag you down with them. They may need help that’s beyond your capacity to give. Try to point them toward that, and move on. There are probably people at home that are depending on you. They should be your focus. Don’t go it alone. You need a support system. Make sure it’s made up of people whom you trust and who will speak to you openly and honestly. This is especially true if you’re assessing your strengths and weaknesses. You need objectivity. Your emotional perspective may not be coming from a happy place, so all you may see in yourself are weaknesses. And that just isn’t true. You still have value, and you’re quite the catch. Lastly, remember it’s not research or science that's breaking up with you. Those things are still there, perhaps at another organization or in another role. Regardless, what you need to rediscover are the things you love about yourself, and trust that this will lead you toward a relationship (the next phase of your career) where you feel valued and impassioned to contribute. If that's still in research, wonderful. If it's a opportunity to find something away from the bench that you'll find as if not more fulfilling, then the whole experience is a blessing in disguise. Either way, may everyone find their bliss.

Author: Glen Ernst

Chemistry and pharma researcher and manager. Lifelong passion for science, the arts and language. Blogger for CENtral Science, also blogging as The Scientist Next Door. LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/glenernst

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  1. Now is it the nakedness or the bad-mouthing that will get you jail time?

  2. You can do time for either one separately — it’s just a matter of degree. But if you do both simultaneously, you get a reality series.

  3. Obviously you should not sue for wrongful dismissal while you are looking for a job. in many jusrisdictions you have quite enough time (it could be up to two years from the dismissal date). So apply for unemployment, see a labor lawyer to figure out what your chances are, start looking – but don’t initiate the legal action until you have a new job already.

  4. milkshake – Fortunately that’s not an issue here — this was a site closure, so no one was singled out, except by zip code. But, yes, in those instances where it might be relevant, it would be best to wait until you’re on your feet again, and can think with a clear head.

  5. The lessons, if there are any: always go to work assuming that you’ll be bringing home your belongings in a box that evening.

    Limit the amount of debt you run up.

    Never stop looking for another job, even if you’re absolutely sure you won’t need it.

    Become emotionally invested in your career, but never in your job.

    Loyalty is for people, not organizations.

    And always network like crazy, so you have a place to go or at least contacts to help you out.


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