A Guide to Being Laid Off

How to Take It Like a Man and Get On With Your Life

laidoffYour Friday begins normally. You arrive at work on time, and you’re looking forward to the weekend.

There are a few things to wrap up. Maybe you’ll leave a few minutes early to beat the traffic.

Just then, you get a call or receive an e-mail, informing you of a meeting with human resources.

You’re a bit nervous, as you’re ushered into the office and are asked to close the door behind you.

There are a lot of thoughts racing through your head? You wonder if it had to do with the 25 copies of the garage sale sign that you printed at work.

It has nothing to do with that, and your day isn’t going to go as planned. Things are going to get worse. A lot worse.

You are about to lose your job.

I’ve been laid off twice in my life (so far). Both were by telephone, and neither was a pleasant experience. How could it be?

There are a lot of thoughts that go through your head when you hear that terrible phrase, “We’re eliminating your position.”

It will come as a shock to your psyche. It will shake your confidence. There is nothing nice about this moment.

You’re not alone. Millions have been down this path before.

Let’s face the facts. You’ve become nothing more than a number on a spreadsheet. And no matter how important you think your contribution is to your employer – now, your former employer – it wasn’t enough to prevent you from sitting in front of your human resources representative, who is delivering the bad news to you.

Why did you get laid off? There are a number of reasons, and all of them have to do with money.

• Shareholders want “more value.” This always means that no matter how much profit a company generates, it’s never enough. Investors don’t care about how much you have made as how much you intend to make in the future.

Your company or industry is in a financial bind. Most businesses go through down cycles. Some don’t recover quickly. Some don’t ever recover. The quickest way to save money is to cut your expenses, and the quickest way to cut expenses is to cut workers. When a company cuts a position, it not only eliminates the salary, but it also sheds other costs, such as health care premiums, numerous local, state and federal workplace taxes, the electricity for power the worker’s computer, perhaps a parking space, and other costs. It isn’t always a simple decision to cut jobs. Without a doubt, it affects the morale and the production of the remaining employees.

There are too many workers and too little work. This can happen in service jobs, as well as manufacturing. When the housing market crashed in 2008, the mortgage industry slashed jobs as quickly as they added them during the boom. No sector is immune in today’s global economy.

Your job has been outsourced. It doesn’t matter if your job is moving to another part of the country or to another country or a call center in Asia. It was your job, and now it belongs to someone else. They might not do your job as well, but that’s not why they’re moving it. The bottom line is that it’s cheaper to have someone else do your job.

Look, I’m not an HR expert, workplace psychologist or counselor, but I offer some straightforward advice to you from someone who has walked this lonely path before.

When the spreadsheet ax falls on your cell, would you rather hear from the “expert” or from someone who understands what it’s like to be in your position?

I don’t mean to make light of this, but being laid off is very much like the five stages of grief. It is a loss. It delivers a devastating blow to your ego, your psyche, and your confidence.

By the way, the five stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

Let’s talk about what just happened and how you are going to deal with it.

1. This Can’t Be Happening to Me

This will undoubtedly be your first thought, followed by, “This is so unfair.”

Sadly, it is happening to you, and it is unfair.

Companies lay off hundreds of thousands of people every year. Today’s workers will be lucky if they never get laid off in their lifetime.

You might feel shell-shocked, and that’s normal.

When I was laid off the second time, I recall thinking, “I can’t believe what I’m hearing.” You’d think that I would have had a different reaction. And you know what? It was just as surprising as when I was laid off the first time.

Stay calm, and listen carefully to what your severance package will be.

Remain focused and unemotional. Ask as many questions as possible.

Let them know that you might need to follow up with questions about certain benefits. It is within your right.

Ask whether you will qualify for unemployment compensation. It’s not a huge amount of money, and it doesn’t replace your paycheck. But it can help see your through those first few weeks.

2. Your Job Is Not Coming Back

This is perhaps my most important piece of advice.

Your position has been eliminated. No amount of pleading, cajoling, or crying is going to change this simple fact or convince the company to change its mind. That ship – with your job aboard – has sailed.

Your job is gone. You will never hold this job with the same company again. Why would you want to? Your company has just told you that your position no longer has any value.

The faster you stop caring about a job that you no longer have, the easier it will be to put it into the past once and for all.

After my second layoff, I made a conscious effort to stop caring about the job 15 seconds after I hung up the phone. It was liberating. Instead of whining about my lost job, I felt free to think about my future.

Within a month, I couldn’t recall the names of more than five co-workers.

If you are to move on with your future, you have to let go of the past.

Remember your good experiences and take that with you. Forget everything else.

Now, go back and read this section one more time.

3. I’m Not Signing That

It really doesn’t matter if you sign it or don’t sign it. You’re still going to be laid off. Threatening to not sign your severance letter only creates unnecessary confrontation.

Don’t be an immature idiot, and don’t do anything that will end up with you in handcuffs or sitting in a jail cell. It’s not worth it.

Getting laid off is one of a worker’s worst experiences, but get your emotions under control and sign the papers. You aren’t a 4-year-old. You’re an adult. Act like one.

Get over yourself. You aren’t the first person to lose their job through no fault of your own, and you won’t be the last.

Everyone experiences failure in life. It’s how we deal with failure that defines us.

4. Go Home and Get Mad

Lock yourself in the bathroom. Or find a solitary place to park your car on your way home. Take 15 minutes and yell, scream, or cry. Tear a phone book in half. Do whatever you want, but you must get past this stage as quickly as possible.

You’re going to be angry. Everyone who gets laid off has a right to be angry. But release that anger in a way that doesn’t physically harm yourself or anyone else. Again, it just isn’t worth it. You have a lot of living to do. So, let’s get this out of your system.

Yelling at someone won’t make you feel better. Believe me, I’ve tried this approach. You just end up with two angry and upset people.

I’ve found that it works best if you tell your spouse, significant other, family, friends, or anyone else who might be in your home that you need some time to yourself. You don’t need to tell them why. That can wait.

When you’re alone, let it loose.

Do you want to act like a 4-year-old? Now is the time for it. Throw your tantrum.

If you feel like you need to yell at someone, prop up a pillow and put a shirt and tie on it.

Call your company every name that comes to mind. You know that you want to. In about 10 minutes, that anger will be gone, and you will feel much better.

Get it out of your system once and for all. Once again, put it into the past, because it’s time to figure out what your next step will be.

5. Break the News to Your Family

Now comes the hard part. You have to tell your family that you no longer have a job. This is a difficult task.

I suggest taking care of the anger first, because you need to be rational and calm for this part.

By the way, their reaction is going to be a lot like yours. Disbelief, anger, and possibly some tears. It’s up to you to help them get through their anger. And there definitely will be anger.

If you have children, hold a family meeting to explain what has happened. You need to assure them that everything will be fine, because it will be fine. Answer any questions that come up as best as you can.

You can explain that you might have to tighten your belts and find ways to cut your expenses until you find another job.

You’re all in it together, and if you work as a team, you will get through this period much easier.

Heck, you might even become closer as a family, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

6. I Feel Ashamed

At first, you might not want to tell your spouse, parents, siblings, or close friends. Being laid off leaves you feeling like you didn’t measure up, that you somehow fell short in your performance.

Listen, in one of my jobs, I ran an overseas operation. I created a new product for the company. I helped them secure business deals. I was a regular commentator on television.

In the other job, I worked 11 hours each weekday, making real contributions to my product. I was up by 6 a.m., worked 2½ hours from home, six hours in the office and 2½ hours at night. I worked two to three hours every Saturday and Sunday to ensure that my product was always fresh and lively. I was constantly thinking of ways to innovate. I always brought excitement and passion to my work.

In the end, none of that mattered, and I was sent packing from both jobs.

I didn’t tell my brother for two weeks that I had been laid off. I felt embarrassed, as if it was somehow my fault. In hindsight, that was a ridiculous feeling, because there was no reason to be ashamed. I worked extremely hard and “brought my A game” every day. I’m quite sure that you were a loyal, hard-working employee for your company.

7. You Will Work Again

This is another important thing to remember. It’s Day Two. Your former co-workers are at work, and you’re at home. Doubts begin to creep in. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I should give up. Maybe if I had kissed up to the boss. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Don’t panic. You will find another job.

Some people do give up. But for most of us, we go back to work. Our lives demand it.

8. The Rest of Your Life

I would suggest taking a week off and do nothing, particularly if you’ve been in the same job or career field more than 15 years.

Don’t think about work or the job that you were just asked to leave. Sleep in. Watch Oprah. Go for a walk. Take some photos. Listen to music. Cut the grass, or wash your car. Cook some great meals.

It is just a week, and the world won’t end because you aren’t out there searching for work. Take two weeks, if you need it. Take a short break from life. But set a limit on it beforehand, so you don’t find yourself sitting on the couch six months down the road and in the middle of a terrible funk.

After that week is over, think about what you want to do for the rest of your life.

Do you just want to get another job like the one that you just had? No problem. I’ve done it before, and so have the millions of others who have been laid off through the years. The work is familiar, so usually it entails finding an opening at a new company. You might have to move, which can be more difficult when you have kids in school or a longtime network of friends and family. Talk it over with your family. Just as companies are always cutting jobs, other companies are always hiring. You just have to find that opening.

Do you want to venture out on your own? This is the perfect time to consider that. Perhaps, you’ve had this idea for a business, percolating in the back of your head for years. Now is the time to write a business plan and pursue a new dream and a new course in life.

Getting laid off can actually be a blessing, because it can force you to take action. Having a job can make you complacent about pursuing your dreams, because you have a steady paycheck, and the bills are being paid.

This also is a good time to think about a career change, particularly if it’s something that you’ve been considering. There’s no time like the present, is how the cliche goes.

FINDING ANOTHER JOB: I’ve always kept my resume up to date, but I’m the exception rather than the rule.

If you don’t have a resume, make one.

If you have one, bring it up to date.

Think about all that you have done in your job. Write down the key points and your accomplishments. Be positive.

In addition to looking on your own, have friends, family and former co-workers be on the lookout for job openings. There is no such thing as too many leads.

If you had a job that placed you in contact with people outside of your company, feel free to drop them an email to let them know that you’re looking for job opportunities. Use your personal and professional networks.

Check Internet job boards and other Web sites for openings.

Some people will find a job within a week. For others, it might take several months. There is no magic to finding a new job. Sometimes, it’s just luck.

Remember, that your job doesn’t define you. To quote a joke that I heard a long time ago, no one ever died, saying, “I wish that I had worked more when I was alive.”

I’m here to tell you that I’ve survived both of my layoffs. My only wish is that I had someone who could have coached me through the process.

That’s what I’m doing here. I hope that this has taken away some of the sting of being laid off.

You’re going to be fine.