What I Have Learned from My Layoffs
Via LinkedIn : There are only a handful of life events that can happen that are as profound on your life as getting laid off. Your job can mean many things to you, and how you integrate that into your life plays a big factor in how you cope when it is forcibly ripped away from you. For some, a job represents their family. It is the source of their friendships, the hub of their social life, and what drives people to be engaged with their lives. For others, it is the means to support their interests, family, and future. But regardless of what your job means to you, when it is taken away from you, it has an emotional wound that feels cold and calculated, reducing you to a number—a headcount.
I have been laid off twice in my life. Each time the circumstances were a bit different. Both were during recessions. Both were surprises in the moment, but in hindsight, I don’t feel I should have been that surprised.
But most importantly, both instances had nothing to do with my performance.
That is the most often misunderstood aspect of layoffs. Often they aren’t about individual performance at all. It is about the business performance which could have nothing to do with you at all. Brilliant, motivated and productive people are laid off every day. But while executives and investors can make decisions and rationalize based on business performance, when that comes down to you—the individual—a layoff can’t help but feel personal.
How you bounce back from a layoff is a personal and individual response. So while I can’t guide you on the right things to do, I have found through my own experiences and through others that there are a few things that might help you.
You will be angry at your company
You were just laid off by your company. A natural reaction is to get angry and curse your former employer. They have hurt you, and you want to hurt them back. You want revenge. But while that seems rational to you, it has serious potential to make you look petty, bitter, and immature—and it can have fatal consequences in trying to find your next job.
In this situation, you have to see yourself as two people. Your public persona and your private one. Start first with your private side. Find a friend, a confidant, or even a therapist that you can trust to keep things private and between the two of you and let out your anger. Get it out of your system. Don’t hold back. Scream. Cry. Do whatever you need to let that energy go. I found that I didn’t do that enough, and one night, while on a camping trip surrounded by friends that I trust with my life, I let it all out—years after the layoff actually happened, and I felt so much better, and my eyes and world opened up afterwards.
Then you have your public side. This can be difficult, because it requires that you rise above the emotions that you might have at the moment. This is where you are looking forward, being cognizant of how your potential future employers would evaluate your behavior in person, on social media, or through what others say in referrals. One bad tweet could mean the difference of getting that next job, or getting passed over.
Your friends won’t know what to say—or do
When you come home and go with your friends and hang out. You will probably see them look and feel awkward. That probably is because they just don’t know what to say. Do they say they are sorry? Do they appeal to your frustration? Do they give you a hug? They probably want to do all of these, but they just don’t know what you want.
Someone told me that the most selfish thing you can do when someone is grieving or hurting is to ask, “Is there anything I can do?” In that moment, you are making it about yourself. While I agree with that, it is human nature to want to help those that are hurting, and if we don’t know the answer to something, we need to ask—and most importantly listen. So be prepared and have an answer for them. Maybe they can provide referrals, or make introductions on LinkedIn with other coworkers. Although you are hurting, it is important to help your friends know that they can help, and how.
Your old coworkers will feel guilty
Survivors guilt exists in natural disasters, and it also exists in layoffs. One day your coworkers and you are having lunch together talking about a project, and the next day they are staring at your empty desk. There is a grieving process for both sides, because your old coworkers will miss you. They will also feel lucky that they still have their job, and guilty at the same time.
Like your friends and family, they probably don’t know what they can do to help. They might also not think you want to talk to them for a while—which is fine. When you are ready, give them a shout. Encourage them to write recommendations or referrals for you on LinkedIn. Let them know that the connection you had at work can extend beyond the office, if you want. Just remember that even though you might be angry at your old employer, they are still employing your former coworkers. So while they might commiserate with you for a while, they don’t want to feel bad about their jobs, even if you are angry.
Some of these things I have learned the hard way, and some of these I was able to figure out and use to help me through the difficult time after getting laid off. While business can sometimes be cold and inhuman, be sure to take care of yourself and think forward and remember how your actions, connections, and attitudes can propel and make you successful in the future.
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