This morning’s headlines came with bad news for Saskatoon: over 50 employees laid off as a local business went bankrupt. This isn’t a fun or easy topic, but I’d like to talk about what to do if you think you might be facing a layoff.
Downsizing. Rightsizing. Making someone available to industry. Whatever the terminology, it’s hard to take. If you think you’re facing a coming layoff situation, you will need to prepare yourself so you can weather the coming stress storm and come out alive on the other side. I’ve been there, I made a lot of mistakes, and now I’d like to help you save money and reduce some stress.
Here are my tips on what to do now if you think you might be laid off.
- Take stock.
What’s your financial situation right now? If you’ve been keeping a budget, pull it out and have a look. If, like most people, you’ve avoided even considering a budget, now is a good time to add it all up. It does not have to be perfect – just a tool to give you some perspective on where your money is going. If you’d like some help, here is a Simple Budget to get you started, courtesy of Wendy Johnston at Next Step Financial Solutions.
- Adjust your expenses, if necessary. Are you consistently covering your regular expenses with your credit card(s)? Do you carry a balance? I’m not going to lie – this part is tough. You know what I’m going to say next: pay off your credit cards.
- If you don’t have one already, start a “just in case” fund. If you are laid off, you’ll be congratulating yourself for your brilliance. If you are not laid off, great! Do something else with the money.
- (If the above seems overwhelming…) Get some help. It’s quite possible you may be facing a huge financial decision such as should I take a package now or wait for a layoff notice? A few dollars spent on good advice now will literally save thousands later. (And please don’t fall for “free” advisors. Chances are, they are selling financial products.) If you don’t have a trusted adviser, I can refer you to some excellent people.
- Start moving toward something positive. Maybe you’ve always wanted to start a business. Maybe you’d like to go back to school. Maybe you’d just like another job. Being laid off can feel like slipping on ice: one minute you’re on your feet, the next, you’re not. It’s hard to prepare mentally for a job change that you are not controlling, but it is easier to get started if you’re already moving.
- Renew or establish social contacts outside of work.
One of the aspects that hit hardest for me was the sudden change in my social circle. If you don’t already have a habit of meeting people for coffees and networking, now is a good time to start.
- Have business cards made up with your personal contact details.
If you’ve got a side hustle, use it for your new title. This will help you deal with your shift in social status. More on this below.
- Join at least one professional association and volunteer.
The benefits are endless: the opportunity to give back while showcasing your talents while surrounded by like-minded people. If you’d like some suggestions on where to look and what to do, drop me a line. I’m happy to help.
- Shine up your résumé / CV and your LinkedIn profile. You’ll need both.
- Be online. Are you an artist? Does your side hustle involve food? Are you a maker? You need a website and at least one of the following: Instagram, Etsy, Pinterest. There’s no avoiding the need for an online presence today.
- Don’t only be online.
I know, this seems a bit contradictory to #10, above. Yes, you need an online presence, but only up to a point. Whether you’re getting a new job or starting a new business, I have found that face to face beats online. Make a habit of having weekly coffees, and try to choose people outside your regular circle.
- Lean on your friends. If you do nothing else, do this. Resist the impulse to go to your cave and handle this on your own. This is bigger than you, it’s not your fault, and nobody gets through unscathed.
My story: doing the layoff shuffle
I’ve faced layoffs at least five times, with three different organizations.
The first time I faced a layoff, I had no notice whatsoever.
I was not prepared. I went to work totally unsuspecting, and I walked out the door a half hour later with my severance cheque in hand. I recall handling my layoff by immediately buying wine and a pack of cigarettes. This could be termed my avoidance strategy. I successfully avoided thinking about my situation as long as I was drinking, but as a long term solution, I give it 1 out of 10. I’d give it less, but the “1” acknowledges that sometimes, people do choose alcohol as a way to cope with the shame of being laid off.
The second, third, and fourth time I faced a layoff situation at work, I survived, but barely.
The organization went private, then public, then was bought by a much bigger organization.
Each time, I remember the panic and worry cancelling out most other thought processes, and I made dumb financial decisions. All around me, people I liked were laid off. Survivor’s guilt is real, and as stressful as being laid off. For months, none of us survivors dared take vacation, never mind got home on time. There’s more to this story, but the point is that I was not prepared to handle the (years of) stress, and I didn’t handle it well. I spent my time and money strenuously avoiding reality. I focused on the weekends. I bought wildly expensive clothes. I treated friends to rounds of drinks. I owned three cars and a basement full of brand new sports equipment. In short, I did everything to fool myself into thinking there wasn’t a problem.
You could call this my self deluding strategy. I give it 2 out of 10. I don’t recommend it, but I recognize that people faced with a layoff can be compelled to cope by buying things. It’s counter-intuitive, short-sighted, and very common.
The fifth time I faced a layoff, I was older and smarter.
I knew the layoff was coming, and I did everything on this list. This was the first time I had an actual plan.
Even so, I was surprised by how I felt. I missed the work and my place in it. I missed the routines and the deadlines. And even though I had prepared financially, I found it tough to change my easygoing lifestyle – the one that relied on a regular paycheque.
If I were facing another layoff in the future, I’d start marketing myself much, much sooner.
Why are layoffs so hard?
They are hard because they affect you financially, professionally, emotionally, environmentally, and socially. Layoffs strip away several layers of human connections – from the coworkers you no longer see to the easy answer to the question, and what do you do? Layoffs change your environments: you don’t leave the house to go to work, you don’t eat lunch at your favourite café, and you may have lost access to the company gym. Layoffs affect your sense of self worth, from the title you no longer carry, to the good salary you were earning. Layoffs affect your social life, as you may find you’re no longer included in the after work drink events, or company parties. Layoffs affects your professional and social standing, because the segment of the population who thinks of you only in terms of what you do will find another go to person in your field. If a key part of your identity is what you do, as it is for many people, then the loss of a job can feel like the loss of your sense of self. In other words, a layoff can affect how you define yourself. It’s no wonder that handling a layoff is stressful, and that people feel blindsided by the process.
Now that you know what’s at stake, you can prepare yourself. I want you to be better prepared than I was.
If you’re facing a layoff, I hope you find my advice useful. If I can help in any way, please comment below.