Confronting the “L” Word: What to Do (and NOT Do) After Your First Layoff
It is a normal Thursday morning. You are sitting at your desk, plugging away at this project or that file that you have been working on, sipping coffee and thinking about paying that bill that is almost overdue. Then, your manager wants to have a word with you, if you have a minute. That is when you find out you have been laid off. Sacked. Fired. Let go. Terminated. Outplaced. The company is moving in a different direction, or is downsizing, or is reorganizing, or needs to make a few cuts just to get through this tough financial time. In any case, the result is the same: you have just lost your job. So, what do you do now?
First, you must manage your immediate situation: actually departing from the company. This stressful period is crucial in securing a positive continuing relationship with the company which is useful when pursuing your next goals, whether it is a return to education for further certifications, a transition into a new company, application for a volunteer position, or even returning in the future to the company that just let you go. You absolutely do not want to burn this bridge; no matter how angry or upset you are. Do not argue, do not beg, and do not badmouth the situation on your way out the door. Your coworkers do not need all the details. Simply thank your manager for the opportunity to have worked for the company, gather your personal effects and data, and depart.
Speaking of opportunities, you have just had a major one fall into your lap. Rather than immediately careening into just any new job with any company, recognize that this is an unexpected opportunity to assess your strengths, talents, and the hopes and goals you have put aside while working. Maybe you want to go back to school, or maybe you want to focus on that startup you have been dreaming of. Maybe you have been thinking about taking a year to live in Thailand or moving back home to be closer to someone you have been missing. Here is your opportunity to retake control of your life, free from impending work deadlines and repressive schedules. Here is your opportunity to make your own choices and live your own life.
Whether the layoff is expected or out of left field, the event can be a major psychological challenge. No matter what you are hoping to do moving forward, focus on the best qualities that make you a valuable person and future employee or boss. Even the most independent person learns from interpersonal feedback and in some way crazes the approval of others; it is a basic, instinctive survival mechanism. Your employer just told you in so many words that you are not worthy of being part of that group. Of course this is going to be upsetting. Fortunately, this is almost never personal. It is not you that they rejected; it is your entire position within the company. You are still walking out with experience, skills, talents, achievements, and other characteristics that employers, educators, and collaborators seek. You still did valuable work and developed yourself further in your career. There is no logical reason to question your own worth as a person or as an employee. Know who you are and what makes you worthwhile, and wear those qualities with pride.
Do share your situation with your family and your friends. These people will support you through your hardship, but do not dwell with them on negative dramatics. Instead, get word out that you are moving toward something new and better for you. They will support your goals as well as your emotional state. If you are not up to date with your social network outside of your immediate family and friends, reach out to those that you might have lost touch with over time: previous employers and coworkers, teachers, classmates, coaches, group leaders, volunteer partners, and previous job or volunteer leads. Re-energize your newly updated resume. Update your LinkedIn profile. Check your other social networking platforms to ensure you are representing yourself the way you wish to be seen by others. If you are invited to attend some kind of going-away event with the company that just let you go, do not feel obligated to attend. However, if you see some advantage in attending, some benefit to you in the way of job leads or networking opportunity, there is likewise nothing wrong with attending. Make the choice that is best for your future and psychological well-being.
Once you’ve decided how you want to move forward in your life from this point, do engage in online research regarding community resources to achieve this goal. Job postings and job fairs are obvious sources of career-related openings. College websites have scores of information about programs available to you. There are online courses for further education and websites for any certification information you need for any licenses you need to maintain. However, the world does not begin and end on the computer screen. Visit potential workplaces and places of education. Engage in the outside community. Talk to strangers. Most job openings are never publicly posted, and many industry-specific events are advertised by word of mouth within established circles like the one you just left. It can be tempting after such a rejection to hide away in one’s own safe home, but it is in the bright light of day that your path will be visible to you.
Be brave. Be bold. Be you.