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  • Writer's pictureSteph

How to stay empowered & in control after a layoff experience

Updated: Jun 7

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Empathy then strategy

If you're reading this and you or someone you know has experienced a layoff, I am so sorry you are having to go through this. You didn't ask for this to happen. The vast majority of layoffs are related to company and shareholder issues that do not relate to the skill, expertise, work ethic, and loyalty you brought to the job. It's not your fault and your inner wisdom, personal strength, and many talents are things that no one can ever take away.

With many companies announcing layoffs in the past few weeks, I want to dedicate a post on how you can manage this difficult situation, hold onto your personal power, and regroup to move forward. I'll also talk about strategic things you can do to increase your chances of finding new employment. I encourage you to read this alongside your partner and loved ones so that you and they can have a better understanding of what the next steps are and how they can support you.

I also want to add that everyone's situation is unique. These suggestions are based on what I have seen work with clients and some general best practices. However, be sure to take action on things in ways that relate personally to your specific situation.

Here are my top recommendations if you or someone you know has been affected by a layoff. Feel free to read the entire blog post or take one section at a time.

Negotiate severance and ask to extend health benefits. Before you sign any paperwork, and when possible, ask the question if the severance and health benefits coverage can be discussed. Sometimes, severance is negotiable while other times it is based on a fixed company formula connected to years of service. Still, it doesn't hurt to ask. It is also worthwhile to see if they can extend the length of health benefits coverage. Even a couple extra months of coverage can translate into hundreds or thousands of dollars plus peace of mind.

File for unemployment and ask for help when you need it.

If unemployment benefits are available, file as soon as possible both to get the process started and to get this part over with so you can move forward. Don't be afraid to ask for help, as the process can be challenging at a time when your emotional reserves are low. One of the most loving things a partner or friend can do is to help you navigate the unemployment website and process. Many companies include step-by-step instructions for how to file for unemployment benefits; take your time reading instructions and get the support you need. If you qualify for an EBT card, I recommend setting up a direct transfer to your personal bank account when possible (e.g., EBT funds are disbursed and then automatically transferred to your account); this often prevents fraud and other issues with EBT cards.

Use positive and empowered language with yourself and others.

Language and our personal narrative are powerful. "Our company conducted layoffs" is less personal than "I was laid off"; similarly, "The industry is still being affected by the pandemic and many of us were impacted by recent restructuring" is more empowered than "I lost my job." When it comes time to apply for new opportunities, there are many ways to address a layoff situation and in general, I like to keep the focus on your preferred future; for example, you can briefly say, "After a successful tenure at the company, the pandemic ultimately caused significant restructuring and our entire department was affected. They were sad to deliver the news since our team was very talented, and I'm turning this into a positive - your company was on my mind for a while and this position seems perfect. I'm excited to learn more about the role today."

Connect with a therapist.

It is professionally traumatizing to experience a layoff. Our job influences our identity, provides financial livelihood, and offers a social community that we interact with daily including work friends. The sudden nature of a layoff is an emotional shock to our system whether it is announced in person or virtually. Additionally, receiving the news over a computer screen can be haunting. There is a reason that most severance packages include free or low-cost access to counseling and I encourage using these services. Even if you have to seek therapy support on your own (for example, if it is not provided by your previous employer), it can be hugely beneficial to connect with a trained professional to debrief on what just happened.

As a coach, I see both scenarios, and people often have an easier time in subsequent job searching with faster timelines to their new jobs by seeing a therapist early on, even just for a few sessions. A layoff situation can affect our self-worth, mental health, relationships, worldview, physical health, sleep, and more. It is unfortunate that we don't have a more holistic perception of health and that the stigma for mental health is still high; you are deserving of a professional listener who can show you kindness, offer support, and help process this experience. Sorting out complicated feelings, healing from this professional interruption, and receiving support & connection at this pivotal time will put you miles ahead and set you up for success in your job search. Special note: The mental health effects of experiencing a layoff are real. If you or a loved one are feeling a sense of hopelessness and things are not getting better or if your health and well-being are cause for concern, please do not delay; get the help you deserve to receive compassionate care. To find a therapist in your area click here. To reach the suicide & crisis lifeline 24/7 contact 988 in the U.S.

Get a part-time job.

I sincerely wish more people would do this. I don't know if it's the ego or underestimating the nature of a job search, but many are hesitant or unwilling to consider a part-time job while they job search for full-time work. The most frequent reason I hear is that working part-time won't leave enough time to job search. This is often based on a myth that you should 'make job searching your full-time job'. I do not agree with this philosophy, as it quickly turns into discouragement, burnout, and poor mental health - ultimately stalling a job search and leading to other problems. By connecting with others in another work situation and being of service, you also are validating to yourself and future employers that you are worthy of being hired - this is one of the biggest motivating factors to fuel your full-time job search efforts.

There are so many benefits. Finding a low-stress part-time job with flexibility and a great boss gives structure to your week, lets you socialize with others, adds something to your resume (or gives you an answer to the interview question, 'How are you spending your time?'), shows that you are hireable, and most importantly, gives you a paycheck and offsets financial pressure. Even if the part-time hourly rate is lower than what you were previously earning or wish to earn, it will feel good to receive income - every little bit helps, and the self-esteem boost from receiving a paycheck is innumerable. I recognize that part-time jobs are harder to secure in certain regions right now; if that is the case, I recommend volunteering with a weekly program or doing independent jobs like dog walking, babysitting, tutoring, or something similar. Keeping busy, having someone rely on you, and staying connected in a community is essential.

Stay connected to others. When a major life event occurs, and especially with a layoff experience, it's a natural reaction - often subconscious - to retreat from regular life. I highly encourage becoming aware of these tendencies and working to overcome them. It is important and nourishing to stay connected with friends and loved ones and to stay active in your personal & professional circles. You can control the story that you share, and you don't have to divulge all the details of what you have been through - especially if retelling the story causes more personal pain. But staying in contact with kind & encouraging friends, former colleagues, and others in your network can be a great resource in finding support, camaraderie, and job leads. Side note: Sometimes the people around us don't know how to care for us after such a big life event. If you are not feeling supported, this is where it can help to connect with a counselor or a coach (like me!) who can empathize and guide you, as well as to build your own new community including a part-time job, meeting new people through volunteering, and other activities (e.g., fitness classes, hiking groups, your alumni network, etc.).

Don't do anything rash.

It is common to think in extremes after experiencing a major life event. Take it one step at a time and think through your options. Connect with those you trust to bounce things off of and strategize. Write down your options, make pro/con lists, research and road-test ideas, and make a plan that balances fulfillment and realistic expectations to get you back on track and in a direction that you enjoy. Sometimes, life events can become turning points for things greater than we could have imagined. Take your time in creating a new life that you love and which can provide for your personal/family needs.

Apply to jobs thoughtfully; focus on quality over quantity.

When you are ready to begin looking for a new job, ideally, I recommend partnering with a job search coach. In my experience, working with a coach accelerates finding a new job and, often, one which is higher in both fulfillment and compensation, while providing support and strategy. Whether you work with a coach or on your own, my best suggestion is to focus your efforts and time on closely-matching jobs (meaning your background matches 90% of the job requirements) and emphasizing quality over quantity. Take time to customize your resume and cover letter and refresh your LinkedIn profile to match your new aspirations and showcase your skills & experience in a compelling and engaging way.

Make self-care a part of your daily routine.

Self-care is one of the most important things you can do for yourself right now. It will help you to be more resilient and emotionally process what is happening by replenishing your mental, physical, creative, and spiritual reserves. By having more energy and optimism, it will be easier to take productive steps in your job search. There are so many great self-care activities to choose from. The three that I have seen to have the most profound and quickest benefits are: sleep (aim for 7-9 hours per night), exercise (20-30 min per day - taking a walk outside counts!), and mindfulness meditation (my favorite app is Insight Timer with 100,000+ free guided meditations, yoga, and more.) Sitting quietly for a few minutes during the day can do wonders. Yoga, Tai chi, reading, cooking nourishing meals, and spending time being creative are also terrific ideas. Whatever you choose, make it a regular part of your life as your own personal sanctuary to reflect, recharge, and renew.

You will find a new job.

You will find work again and the best way to approach this is to tend to your well-being, honor what you have been through, stay connected with others, and take positive action steps toward your goals.

We are all rooting for you!

When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you,

till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer,

never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

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