Getting laid off is never easy, and it can happen to the best of us.
It is a massive blow to many people. If you've found yourself in this position, it can seem impossible to get back up on your feet, but you can, and you can come back stronger than ever before.
First, you need to be clear about what your situation is exactly. If you got laid off, then your employer is looking for someone to replace you. It could be because your performance was inadequate, or it may be that your department is cutting costs and they want to replace you with a less expensive hire.
Being laid off or furloughed, however, usually means the reason was entirely budgetary. Your company wants or needs to cut costs, and they chose you as the expendable, unfortunately. The difference is that furloughs typically mean your employer wants to try and bring you back on the payroll as soon as they can afford it.
While there is a chance of getting your job back in all three situations, you should prepare for the worst and assume that your old position is permanently gone.
Separating yourself and your job can be a hard concept to internalize, especially in the United States. More than 50 percent of employed adults consider their careers to be an integral part of their identity². Yet your job is not you, and you are not your job. Occupational wellness is essential, but it does not mean that your entire sense of self should revolve around your work.
It is easy to see getting laid off or having your hours reduced as a sign of failure; remind yourself that a change in job status is not a fundamental change in who you are.
Getting laid off does not define you, but it is still harsh. Even if you excelled in your job, getting laid off is still your company saying, "We've looked over everything in our budget and have decided we can survive without you." The situation is going to sting, and you must acknowledge that. Don't try to avoid dealing with your feelings by insisting the decision had nothing to do with you.
Ultimately, you should strive to find a healthy balance between your genuine feelings of rejection and acknowledge that you are not a lesser person because you can and will recover.
You'll need a new job as soon as you can manage it. For most of us, a layoff is detrimental to our bank accounts. Your financial health can have rippling effects on all other areas of your well-being.
However, getting a new job, whether temporary or permanent--is the most natural part of your recovery. It may not be easy to accomplish, but it is the most natural "next step" to commit. Dusting off your resume, contacting potential employers, and scrolling through job sites is exhausting. But it is something you can easily trick yourself into doing without ever addressing the emotional fallout from being laid off in the first place.
This is precisely why you should always take a step back before jumping back into the workforce. Exactly how long that step back is will depend on your specific situation. Some people may be able to afford a lengthy job hiatus, while others may not. What is important is that you get a handle on your mental well-being before setting up any job interviews.
Getting laid off is many things. It's stressful, infuriating, and maybe even insulting. These emotions can eat away at you if you try to bury them. In reality, people go through a grieving process for their jobs, much like the popular Kübler-Ross model used to describe, like the typical emotional stages that accompany a loved one's death³.
When you first hear that you are about to be laid off or furloughed, you may not want to believe it. You might convince yourself that the situation is temporary, and you can avoid the layoff if you just "fix" the problem.
After some time, you will be unable to deny the situation. You may start to feel the rejection and hurt that can come with a layoff, wondering why this had to happen to you. You may fixate on a coworker who you think "deserved" the dismissal more than you.
This anger is one reason why it's so essential to deal with your emotions before you try to start another career. If you carry any resentment or anger about your layoff into a new position, it can negatively affect your work productivity and general attitude, thus risking your new job.
When you reach the bargaining stage, you'll start blaming yourself for every small misstep you ever had. For example, "If I could just have my old job back I'd never be late again!".
Suppose you genuinely feel you had performance issues that may have contributed to your layoff. In that case, it's good to acknowledge them and keep them in mind moving forward. However, it is not healthy to fixate on past mistakes. Learn from your previous errors, but allow yourself to move on. For example, suppose you genuinely were frequently late to work. You can take that to heart and work on your time management skills, but there's nothing to be gained by beating yourself up over your past tardiness.
When you realize you can't bargain your way back into your old job, this can lead to depression. The loss of your routine and uncertainty about the future can exacerbate feelings of helplessness, insecurity, and anxiety.
At this stage of depression, many people are tempted to fake acceptance without really moving on, but this ultimately won't help you.
Hallmarks of acceptance are a sense of conviction about your future goals and finally being able to let go of your previous job without attempting to bury it. You may find it easier to talk about your layoff now. Some optimism about the future may even creep into your conversations.
How quickly and smoothly you move through these stages and into a place where you can healthily move forward may vary. Here are some tactics to help you come to terms with being laid off to start making meaningful moves towards the future.
Your first step should be a small step back to survey your situation. A lot of how you proceed is going to depend on your finances. You want to give yourself as much time as possible to get back on your feet. Still, if you sacrifice your financial wellness to do so, you may never fully recover.
Take an honest look at your finances and layout a timeline for exactly how long you can rest and recuperate before you need to be back out in the workforce. See how much more time you can give yourself by making some changes to your expenditures and cutting costs. Budgeting takes commitment and resolve, but there are resources to help you hold yourself accountable⁴.
Be sure your whole household is on board with any new budget plans. You'll need support from everyone to maintain your financial wellness while you get back on your feet.
"Having a good talk" with a trusted confidant is an age-old piece of advice for going through any traumatic experience. As it turns out, there's a science to back up the catharsis you feel after pouring your heart out to your best friend. The act of putting your feelings into words is called "affect labeling," and research has shown that this process helps diminish the automatic trauma triggers in your brain surrounding the event⁵. This is why talking about something upsetting gets easier each time you do it and why those first few conversations can be hard.
People who write their feelings out have similar results, so you may also want to consider journaling or even taking up creative writing to process how you feel. It's up to you whether or not you ever show what you wrote to anyone.
Select your conversation partners carefully. You want to have these therapeutic conversations with people who will not judge you and validate your feelings. It could be a longtime friend, a romantic partner, or a close family member.
"Cheer up" is overly simplistic advice, but there is something to say about positivity wearing off on you. The last thing you need while you overcome your layoff is for an overly critical in-law or a judgemental neighbor to lecture you about your life's current state.
According to clinical psychotherapist Joe Wilner, a positive support group cheers you on from the sidelines and holds you accountable⁶. Surround yourself with friends, family members, and colleagues who understand your situation and cut you some slack while still encouraging you to move forward. Be open and honest upfront. Tell those closest to you precisely what kind of support you need from them.
Stagnation and a lack of meaningful accomplishments can often have people stalling in the depression stage of grief. Suppose your job was where you got a regular sense of progress and productivity. It can be a natural spiral into depression and self-loathing if you don't find ways to pick up the slack.
Without distracting yourself from the need to move on professionally, take the time to cross off some personal to-dos. Maybe complete a home improvement project or designate some time each day to helping others.Now is also the perfect time to grow professionally. Depending on your career goals and finances, you can take this time to pick up a new skill from a site like Skillshare. You can even go all-in and gain a professional certificate from a program like EDX
. Doing so will help you feel productive and may also give you a leg up in the hiring process later on.
Whether or not your layoff has a silver lining comes down to what you make of it. There's always a better opportunity out there for you somewhere, no matter how much you loved your previous job. Without a layoff, you may never have found it.
While this idea will likely be little comfort to you while your emotions are still raw, once you have reached the acceptance phase of your grief process, you may focus on coming back even stronger than before. Aiming to land an even better position than before, whether with higher pay or a job you're more passionate about, can help motivate you to bounce back from your initial setback.
According to research compiled by Business Insider, mass layoffs can often be the sign of trouble is not just your company, but your entire industry⁷. If you suspect this might be the case, then thinking outside the box and pursuing different career opportunities is not only preferable, it may be necessary.
Everyone's journey from layoff to a new career will look different, but here are a few general takeaways.
Acknowledge and work through your feelings rather than bottling them up inside.
Do not try to job hunt without first getting a handle on your emotional well-being.
Forgive yourself for the layoff.
Use the opportunity to improve.
Reach out to your support network.
Above all else, don't fixate on trying to reclaim your previous job or position. Instead, take this chance to search for something better. Aim to be saying a year from now, "Getting laid off was the best thing that ever happened to me!".
(1) Borden, T.; Akhtar, A; Hadden, J (August 2020) The coronavirus outbreak has triggered unprecedented mass layoffs and furloughs. Here are the major companies that have announced they are downsizing their workforces
(2) Riffkin, R (August 2014) In U.S., 55% of Workers Get Sense of Identity From Their Job
(3) Healthline (September 2018) What You Should Know About the Stages of Grief
(4) Hong, E (August 2019) The 5 Best Budgeting Apps
(5) Lieberman MD; Eisenberger NI; Crockett MJ; Tom SM; Pfeifer JH; Way BM (May 2007) Putting feelings into words: affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli
(6) Wilner, J (June 2011) Do You Have a Positive Social Support System?
(7) Akhtar, A; Ward, M (May 2020) 11 things you should do if you're worried about your future after a round of layoffs, according to career experts