Coping With & Bouncing Back After a Layoff

bouncing back after a layoff

Between 2007 and 2009, we felt the impacts of the Great Recession in one way or another. Back then, those of us who are working parents today watched the job market change practically overnight. The youngest of us saw our parents or our friends’ parents lose jobs. Most of us were just entering the job market ourselves and struggled to find opportunities, and the oldest of us either lost or feared losing our jobs (and possibly the income they needed to take care of our families). Suffice to say, many of today’s working parents have deep-rooted anxiety when it comes to job security, and the mere thought of getting laid off can cause panic. 

Constantly carrying this fear along with you is hard enough as it is. Still, it becomes a devastating reality when your company goes through a round (or multiple rounds) of layoffs. Even if you don’t lose your job in the company’s layoff, you will still feel its impacts. Many people who lose their jobs then navigate stress and worry as they look to a future full of unknowns. 

For us, layoffs are real-life reminders that the fear we carry with us is valid, intensifying any anxieties. Therefore, it’s essential to know how to cope with and recover from a layoff to move forward and find new career success. 

Common Reasons For Layoffs

There is a big difference between being let go from a job (or fired) and being laid off from one. When fired, your employment is terminated, likely because of performance or behavior issues. However, your job still exists and will be filled by someone else after you’ve left. When laid off, you’re losing your job because of something happening within the company that has nothing to do with you as an employee, and often your job is eliminated as a result. The company won’t be hiring a replacement.  

One of the reasons layoffs are so scary is because there is nothing you can do as an individual performer to avoid losing your job. The decision to layoff workers has everything to do with the organization’s inner workings, and people in leadership are the ones who decide who stays and who goes. Essentially, employees are pretty much powerless in these situations. 

Some common reasons for company layoffs include:

  • Organizational restructuring
  • Cost reduction (mainly when layoffs impact many high-earners)
  • Overstaffing
  • Business closure or bankruptcy 
  • Mergers and or acquisitions 
  • Outsourcing 
  • Company site closure 
  • Lack of funds
  • Project termination
  • Major technology advancement

Effects of a Layoff

Understandably, the people most impacted by company layoffs are the ones who end up losing their jobs. However, a significant reduction in staff will also create a ripple effect across the remaining employees at the company. Unless you’re blissfully unaware that your company even went through a layoff, you’re probably not walking away from it completely unscathed. 

When You’ve Been Laid Off

For someone who lost their job in a company layoff, the effects are significant, and they have the potential to go far beyond lost income, including:

  • Mental health struggles like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, substance abuse, etc
  • Physical concerns such as loss of sleep or oversleeping, weight loss or gain, illness, etc
  • Lashing out in anger 
  • Strained relationships with partners and or children
  • Loss of health benefits (and increased cost of continuing them with COBRA)
  • Long-term financial loss (especially if you pull money from your retirement savings)
  • Unwanted resume gap/career pause
  • Falling behind on bills and increasing debt 

When You’ve Survived A Layoff 

At first, as a survivor, you might feel relief once you know your job is safe. However, you’re probably not going to walk away from the layoff completely unaffected. Possible effects employees may experience include:

  • Significant increase in workload due to reduced staff
  • A negative shift in company culture and or general morale
  • Anger and distrust towards the company
  • Guilt 
  • Decrease in creativity and overall job engagement
  • Increased stress, anxiety, and fear at work
  • Burnout
  • Poor job performance
  • General unhappiness at work (leading to searching for a new job)

Coping & Moving Forward

How much coping you will need to do after a layoff depends on how it affects you personally. If your job survived and you didn’t know any of the people laid off from your company, you probably won’t need as many tools to process the situation as someone who lost their job. On the flip side, someone laid off but had been anticipating (and preparing for) it may not need as much coping time as a survivor whose job responsibilities increased after their team had a high percentage reduction in force. It’s all relative to your personal experience. No matter where you are in processing a layoff, here are some tools to help you move forward:

  • Take some time off to sit with your feelings and work through them, especially if you’re trying to figure out your next move
  • Permit yourself to be sad, angry, and hurt
  • Confide in your family and friends; push past any embarrassment you’re feeling and talk to the people who love you and will support you during this transition
  • When you’re ready, evaluate your financial situation and come up with a plan 
  • Join a community (in-person or online) where you can connect with others in this situation
  • Take care of yourself physically (get out of bed, shower, go for walks, eat a balanced diet, etc.)
  • Enlist the help of a therapist or counselor 
  • Start thinking about what you want out of your next job
  • Pace yourself throughout this process to avoid burnout

Once you’re in a better headspace, if you’re planning to start searching for new jobs, start by updating your resume and LinkedIn page and then reach out to the people in your professional network. Set aside a good chunk of time every day to search for and apply to jobs (don’t go overboard, though, because you don’t want to burnout) and expand your network by connecting with people who may be able to help you find a new opportunity. 

Addressing the Layoff in Future Interviews

Whether you’re looking for new jobs because you were laid off or because a layoff caused you to lose your trust in your company, expect to address the experience on your resume and or in interviews. 

On your resume, write out the start and end date to the position like any other, but consider making a note that you left due to a reduction in force. How you format this depends on your resume’s layout. The important thing is not to shy away from the situation to avoid any misinterpretation by the recruiter or hiring manager. Additionally, if you’re able to get a positive reference from your former boss, it’s worth noting that on your resume as well.

Once you’ve made it to the interview round, you’ll have the opportunity to go into a little more detail. If you’re still angry or upset over the situation, you’ll need to pay close attention to your tone and language when discussing your experience. A good recruiter won’t eliminate a candidate for being the victim of a layoff, but they will reject someone who is unprofessional and has a negative attitude. 

If the reason you’re looking for a new job is that you’ve lost confidence in your company/job security after a round of layoffs, don’t disclose that information. First, it could be perceived as you sharing confidential company information (especially if they’re still going through a restructure or a merger/acquisition that isn’t public yet), making you look less favorable as a good candidate. Second, you may appear like you’re jumping ship when things are hard at the company, which isn’t ideal if the hiring manager you’re speaking to is big on loyalty. Finally, you don’t want to give the impression that you’re not genuinely interested and invested in an opportunity because there are plenty of other candidates who are. Instead, talk about finding a job somewhere you can stay long-term, how you’re looking for new challenges, and why you’re willing to leave your current role for this specific opportunity. 

A New Beginning

On the surface, a layoff looks like it's the end of something, but that perspective isn’t going to do you any good when you try to bounce back from it. Instead, mourn what you lost but also look towards the future. If you’ve been carrying around fear for your job security throughout your career, this layoff can help you realize that it’s survivable. So you can let go of the worry as you move forward. Also, as devastating as this situation might be, it’s opening you up to opportunities you might not have considered before, and that has the potential to change your life for the better. So, take a deep breath, process what you’re feeling, and get to work on finding your next adventure. 

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