In the U.S., jobs are more secure now than ever before in our country’s history—despite some pretty dramatic market fluctuations in recent decades. The layoff rate in the US hovers around just 1.2 percent. But that’s hardly comforting when it’s your job on the chopping block. Surviving and thriving after a layoff takes work and some intestinal fortitude, but you can come out ahead of the game.
New technologies, major contract changes, and changes in patents make some fields such as biotechnology, manufacturing, and travel or reservation services more prone to layoffs. Check out the top industries with the most job losses. Getting laid off one or more times in a career is just part of the deal, but it’s never fun.
Research shows layoffs also cause layoff survivor sickness—deep distress, anxiety and guilt in colleagues who didn’t get let go. Managers and HR employees who make layoff decisions and must deliver the bad news are also deeply impacted.
Charles B. was the senior director over a state organization of some 257 employees when he was instructed to cut staff by 10 percent. “The downsizing was not tied to our performance, productivity, or the amount of work on our plate. So I knew it was going to impact those who left and the remaining crews who had to pick up the slack,” he says. “What was more frustrating was that seniority dictated who I had to let go. I had guys I knew were ready to retire, but I had to cut young early career folks. Some with new mortgages, new babies. It was the worst thing I have ever had to do.” He lost 35 pounds in four months from the stress and crisscrossed the state to meet with each person being laid off.
For managers grappling with an upcoming layoff, read Harvard Business Review’s How to Tell Someone They’re Being Laid Off.
Here are our top-four recommendations to get back on track after the trauma.
Practice calming your lizard brain
Being laid off impacts every corner of your life: emotional, social, physical, and financial. The shock and stress can kick your back into overdrive with an instinctive fight or flight response. You might feel like you are actually fighting for survival. Understanding this physiological response can help you be conscious in moments of deep distress and calm your body down. Take five minutes to breathe deeply and concentrate on slowing your heart beat. This will help you think more clearly and cope in the weeks and months ahead.
Schedule a follow-up discussion
When first getting the bad news, it will be hard to shift gears enough to be able to ask all the critical questions. If possible, schedule a follow-up discussion for a day or two later. You’ll be better prepared to work through the details of the benefits available during and after your transition from the company. If just a few employees are being laid off, employers may offer individual meetings to work through layoff packages. When larger groups are let go, employers may offer group briefings followed by individual appointments.
Questions you should ask
What is my severance package for pay? How will this be paid out? Is there any flexibility in how it is distributed to minimize taxes?
How and when will my health insurance be impacted?
What are my options for continuing my health insurance or purchasing a transitional policy until I am employed again?
Will I receive priority when applying for other jobs in the company? How can I take advantage of that?
Do you offer any job retraining?
Do you offer any job placement services?
Can I get positive recommendations as I apply for jobs?
What happens with my retirement benefits? Do I need to transfer accounts? How will I be kept informed about accounts that continue to be managed by the company?
Don’t isolate yourself
It’s perfectly natural to feel anger, rejection, and even a sense of shame over being laid off. Try to remember those are just feelings not facts, and that feelings will pass. More importantly, the last thing you should do is isolate yourself. Talk with friends and family, and let them offer comfort and understanding. Tell them how to support you (and what to avoid doing) in the weeks and months ahead as you look for work. Ask them to read The Business Journals’ article How to Support Someone Who Has Been Laid Off to better understand what you’re going through.
And FYI, some coworkers who once were close friends may now feel awkward around you. It sucks for everybody. Some of those friendships won’t survive the transition.
Activate your networks
It’s ironic, but many people keep being laid off a deep dark secret until they have found another job. How nuts is that?! What’s the point of having a network if you don’t ask for help? (Cue everyone on LinkedIn doing a facepalm.)
Don’t fall into that trap! Yes, it’s hard to market yourself after such a setback, but there are a lot of positive and energizing benefits to reaching out. Flexjobs lists networking advantages such as insightful informational interviews, helping you get your mojo back, the potential for new connections, job search advice, interview prep help, insider information, and more. The Muse offers great advice on how to reach out to advisors and mentors for help and advice.
And if it still feels uncomfortable to reach out for help, make a personal promise that you will help others in the future. This reminds you that networks are reciprocal relationships. So make those calls and send those emails. Get that pay-it-forward karma going strong.