By Susan P. Joyce, Editor/Publisher

This article originally posted at

Being laid off happens to most people at some point in their careers. 

I have been laid off twice, and, both times, I moved on to better jobs. You can, too!.

Know that being laid off very seldom is a reflection on you or your work, and it is a temporary setback.

In spite of what many people believe, layoffs are not usually a rational, reasoned pruning of staff. They should be done carefully, but they are not usually done that way.

Management often does not have the time, information, or skills to carefully prune away the “poor performers” while keeping the best.

MUCH more often, those who are laid off are simply in the wrong place (employer, job, and/or department) at the wrong time (Coronavirus shutdown, business failure, or re-organization by a new owner).

What Is a Layoff?

A layoff is a job loss resulting from a reduction in an employer’s employee head count, typically to reduce expenses (both salaries and benefits).

For most organizations, employees are usually the biggest “expense” that can be quickly reduced by eliminating jobs — a layoff. Layoffs are often called “down-sizing” or, more hopefully and euphemistically (for the employer), “right-sizing.”

Regardless of the exact term used, being laid off is not the same as being fired! Individuals are fired for job performance issues, usually individually rather than in a large group. 

Layoffs can cause the job loss of a few people or of thousands. It is more often a matter of being in the impacted part of the organization or the targeted job when head count is reduced rather than being an incompetent or bad employee.

Like an actor or actress on a canceled TV show, the actors and crew are seldom the direct cause of a show’s cancelation, but they lose their jobs anyway because production of the show ends. 

Usually, companies begin layoffs to reduce expenses — and, hopefully as a result, profits increase so they can survive. Sometimes it works, and the employer survives. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and the employer shuts down any way with more jobs lost.

Surviving a Layoff

If you have just been laid off, stop for a day or two, and catch your breath. Being laid off makes a big change in your life — no longer going to work every day OR collecting a paycheck. After my layoffs, that first payday without receiving a paycheck was a big, scary shock. 

Being laid off is not the same as being fired. (Macau Phot Agency/Unsplash)

 Recognize the Emotional Impact  

When you think about it, the layoff is a loss — of income, certainly, but also a major shift in your daily routine, how you view yourself, and your interactions with others. 

Not seeing your work friends and interacting with other workers who share a common goal is a VERY BIG CHANGE! Suddenly, the future looks hazy. Nothing is the same.

DO NOT trash your former employer publicly in social media. Recruiters and potential employers will probably find it, and wonder about the “other side” of the situation, making your job search longer.

I remember attending a marketing seminar the week after my last layoff, sitting around a big table with about 12 other professionals. At the start of the session, the seminar leader asked us all to introduce ourselves — our names and jobs. 

All of a sudden it hit me. I no longer had an official job title from my employer because I no longer had an employer. It was a shock. I really don’t remember much about that seminar beyond that point (and I had paid for that seminar myself).

Recovering from this loss will probably take a while, even if you hated your job and/or the employer. 

People have many different reactions to being laid off. You may feel:

  • Glad to end that part of your career and to be moving forward.
  • Angry at the organization for failing.
  • Angry with the organization for treating you unfairly.
  • Grief and sadness because this is the end to a big part of your life. 
  • Disappointed because you feel like you failed.
  • Shocked because you never expected to be considered “expendable.”
  • Sad to be separated from your work friends and colleagues.
  • Lost and not sure what to do next. 

Or a combination of any or all of the above. 

Don’t expect to “get over” this loss quickly, but don’t pretend that it didn’t happen. Find a way to accept what cannot be changed, and move on to the future. 

After a day or two of absorbing the initial shock, get started on the next phase of your career. You need to find another job, continuing your career and generating income. Moving on will help you heal, and it will also help you regain your confidence and sense of purpose.

Take Care of Yourself  

Most of us take a while to recover from being laid off. So, every day, be sure you get enough sleep, good nutrition, and schedule time for daily exercise (like you couldn’t when you were employed). 

Avoid negative people and “pity parties” where people gather to complain about how awful things are now. Focus on the future, and stay as positive as possible. Remember the things you are grateful for like family and friends.

Keep your skills sharp, make new friends (expanding your networ!), and help others by volunteering with your favorite charity. If possible, volunteer in a way that will show employers you stayed up-to-date while aiding others. So, if you are in sales, help the charity find more donors. If you are in IT, help them update their computers or their website.

Use Facebook and LinkedIn to stay in touch with your work friends and colleagues (employed and unemployed). Support other “escapees.” Share leads, network connections, information, and opportunities. 

Look for good local “job clubs” preferably led by a career or counseling professional, focused on networking and successful job search. Reconnect and expand your network — more jobs are filled through employee referrals  than through job boards!

The U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop site has a “Job Club Finder” site that can be a big help. Also check with the local American Job Center where you can find help with your job search, counseling, workshops, and more.

Optimize Your Finances  

Before you leave (or sign anything!), ask about the “severance package.” Do not be afraid to negotiate! Severance packages usually include:

  • One or two weeks of pay for every year you have worked for this employer. 
  • Reimbursement for vacation time you have earned but not taken and other benefits you have earned but not yet been paid for, like commissions and bonuses. 
  • Continuation of your medical insurance and other benefits coverage for a specific length of time — often the amount of time for which you will receive severance pay. Sometimes the medical coverage may last longer.
  • Help with “outplacement” — professional assistance with your resume and LinkedIn profile, workshops and other support you need to find your next job.
  • Beware: avoid signing “non-compete agreements” which limit the employers and jobs you may seek next. These may make your next job search very difficult. Negotiate a short period and/or “severance pay” to compensate you for the limitations on your ability to earn an appropriate income.

Beware: Avoid signing unfair “non-compete agreements” which attempt to greatly limit the employers and jobs you may seek next. These may make your next job search very difficult or impossible. 

Instead, negotiate a shorter limitation on your ability to do that work or work for those employers. And (or) negotiate several months of “severance pay” (your full salary or close to it) to compensate you for the agreement’s limitations on your ability to earn an appropriate income.

As soon as you are no longer employed, register for unemployment benefits by state immediately. This site will connect you with the requirements and the benefits for your state. Also check out the Worker ReEmployment site which offers additional information and possibly even financial help for training.

Then, look into the COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) plan that allows you to continue to use your former employer’s medical program for 18 to 36 months. But, under COBRA, you are responsible for paying the monthly insurance premium.

Now, figure out how much money you spend every week, and cut back immediately on optional expenses until you find that next great new job.

Still Employed with Layoff Pending?

Unfortunately for everyone, eliminating the jobs does not necessarily eliminate the work that needs to be done. Eliminating those jobs means fewer people doing the organization’s work, often making the organization less productive or reducing the quantity and/or quality of the products or services provided. 

As a result, revenue and profits decline, resulting in additional layoffs. Closing the business may be the final consequence, once the layoffs begin. 

If your employer has laid off other employees, do NOT assume you and your job are safe. Layoffs often occur in “rounds” — different groups of employees are laid off over time. While your job may not have been eliminated yet, expect that it could happen in the future.

Practice Layoff Self-Defense  

If your current employer has begun layoffs, pay attention. 

Don’t assume that your job is “safe” even if your boss has assured you that it is. 

Your boss may be uninformed (or not), and your boss may be laid off, too.

Carefully Execute a “Stealth” Job Search  

Moving to another job with a different employer is often a good idea. But job hunting while you still have a job is not simple because your current employer will be very unhappy to learn you are trying to leave. 

Employers often fire an employee who is discovered job hunting, assuming lack of loyalty and lack of focus on their current work. With technology used today, discovering you are job hunting is easier than ever before.

Do NOT announce your intention to find a new job at work or in ANY social media, even “private” LinkedIn or Facebook groups! “Seeking new opportunities” is like waving a flag in front of your employer.

The safest and smartest approach is to search from home, using your own equipment and network. Your job search may be discovered if you search from work using your employer’s computers, smart phone, Internet connection, or WiFi for your job search.

Do NOT Quit First!  

Until you find a new job (and have a formal job offer in your hand!), resist the feeling that you should just quit your existing job so you can focus on finding a new job. 

Being unemployed can put you at a disadvantage in the job market – employers wonder why you are unemployed (something may be wrong with you). 

Employers prefer to hire someone who is currently employed — the thinking is that someone else likes your work, so it must be good. If you quit, you lose that advantage.

Quitting your job can also mean that you won’t be able to collect unemployment compensation. So you will have zero income.

The Bottom Line

Layoffs are survivable, career pauses. YOU will survive, too. Tens of millions of people have moved on and even moved up, in their careers after being laid off.

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