How To Survive a Layoff

by | Job Hunting

There are some major life-changing events that every adult, at some point in their lives, may have to deal with. Getting married, getting divorced, dealing with a death in the family, getting a new job, and unfortunately the painful experience of getting laid off.

It’s certainly not a fun experience, for anyone.

But like it or not, it’s the way of the world, especially in the 21st century where globalization and extreme competition, means that most companies and organizations live and die by their published quarterly earnings and results.

And even if the company SEEMS to be financially healthy, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t looking for ways to shave costs. It’s a well-known fact that the biggest expense for a company is labor costs, meaning the employees and the wages they are paid.

The days of companies “hitching up their belts” and eating the cost of bad quarters is long gone. These days, CEOs are financially rewarded for cutting company expenses, and what that means for the rank and file employees are company layoffs.

Of course, I’m generalizing. But the point I’m trying to stress is the days of “company loyalty” to their employees (and let’s take that phrase with a grain of salt here), are long gone.

Globalization, the concept that companies are now competing on the world stage, and not just inside the United States, is a clear and undeniable fact.

Remember what I said about labor costs being the number one expense which a company is always looking to reduce? Well, globalization is allowing that to happen much more easily.

A company can bypass the hassle of unions and expensive labor costs inside the country by turning to offshore labor, which can be SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper outside the country.

Skeptical? There was an article I spotted recently that there are now more employees working for IBM, a company founded inside the United States more than a century ago, who work in India and other countries outside the United States than there are American employees.

The reason I’m bringing all these things up, is because this is the new reality of the American workforce and how many companies and organizations operate.

And because of this new reality, everyone including myself, needs to stop holding on to the notion that any of us are untouchable.

EVERYONE is expendable, and this is the nature of capitalism, like it or not.

When I first realized I got the pink slip, I remember the initial stages of grief and emotion I experienced. I was laid off about 15 years before, so it wasn’t a COMPLETELY new experience.

Yet we’re all human beings and while I can’t speak for anyone else, just because I’ve experienced the shock and pain of going through a layoff before, didn’t guarantee I’d be able to avoid all the same stages of emotions this time.

This is my own list of the various stages and levels of emotions I went through.

  1. Panic
  2. Denial
  3. Anger
  4. Acceptance
  5. Moving on

At a rational level, I technically shouldn’t have panicked. I KNEW the company was well underway in cutting employee labor costs any which way they could. This included wave after wave of layoffs and displacing American employee headcount with offshore labor.

And I was already beginning to look for new work outside the company. The company just happened to beat me to the punch.

In the back of my mind, my brain was still irrationally holding on to the notion that “it couldn’t happen to me, I’m untouchable!”

So I panicked. It’s normal. It’s a human emotion, and unless you’re a robotic CYLON with no feelings or emotions, you will feel panic about getting the pink slip.

A billion thoughts are going to race through your head. They did through mine. After the initial shock of going through the unpleasant activities of giving back your employee badge, your parking pass, and any other accoutrements that identify you as an employee, someone is more than likely watching your every move, while you are still on the premises, to make sure you don’t do anything out of the ordinary.

Then, of course, there’s the pain of having to tell your coworkers you’ve been let go and have to leave the premises immediately.

That’s when it really hit home for me that I was really getting laid off.

And of course, the initial panic. I’m out of a job! But I still have plenty of bills to pay! What am I going to do??

This is a completely normal reaction. Your brain is probably speeding along at a million miles a minute. I certainly was. I’m usually a low key person, but stressful events like this will wreak havoc on any body’s emotions.

This is normal.

Then hits the denial. Even though you just went through all the steps to ensure you can’t ever legally return to the office as one of their employees, the denial phase of being terminated still kicks in.

This can’t be happening to me! There must be a mistake!

And not long after the denial is the anger.

How DARE they get rid of me! I’ll show them! I’ll get my revenge on them, just you wait and see!

That was the emotional and hotheaded part of my brain reacting to this life-changing event.

Sooner or later, the logical left side of your brain kicks in and you eventually realize this likely has NOTHING to do with you, but more with things like the poor financial shape of the company and/or strategic executive decisions made at the top levels of the company.

The important stage of grief you want to make sure you end up in is the stage of ACCEPTANCE.

It’s the state of realizing this isn’t a dream, this really happened to you and it was a REAL and concrete event.

Because without reaching this emotional stage of acceptance, you won’t be able to reach the most important stage, which is realizing it’s time to move on and accept your reality.

In fact, the phrase that you hear most often when things like this happen to people is “a blessing in disguise”.


Because you are now ready to proactively do something to get out of this predicament in a positive way.

And I’m a firm believer that seizing new opportunities is one of the most effective ways to help progress your career.

I can honestly say that in my career, the primary catalyst for progressing my career, in terms of learning valuable new skills and/or progressing up the career ladder, have always revolved around either switching to a different team within the same company OR leaving the company and finding a new employer.

And while it’s far more preferable to leave a company on your own terms, rather than being let go, the end result, is you’re getting the opportunity to end up in a better place.

There is no question going through something as traumatic as getting laid off is no picnic.

You’re going to feel depression and sadness and many other negative emotions. There’s simply no way to avoid that.

But the key is not to stay in this negative emotional state for long. Stewing and worrying about it accomplishes absolutely nothing except making you feel even worse.

It’s important to realize who you are as a person and what you do for a living are two completely separate things.

These are hard words for me to write. I usually don’t write about things that hit so close to home, in this case, going through an unpleasant reduction in force.

But at the same time, writing about it feels cathartic to me. And if it can help encourage others who have experienced the same painful experience, or help prepare someone in the future facing such an unpleasant event, all the better.

Your friends, your family… these are the things that are truly important. And I’m going to continue to try to practice what I preach and hold on to these things as I look for the next opportunity.

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