Leaving The Nest - Surviving Layoffs
Originally written for the government and public sector contexts, the advice contained here about surviving layoffs and downsizing is no less relevant to private sector companies. Layoffs are a fact of life, and it's best to learn how to deal with them.
It's happening all over Canada. Thousands in the Federal Public Service, and hundreds in each provincial jurisdiction are having to face the prospect of losing their jobs. Attempts to balance budgets or reduce deficits are displacing large numbers of civil servants, and while we can recognize the economic realities of government, this does little to cushion the blows, if we are among those pushed out of the nest. In this article, we present some information for those that are, or will be experiencing the loss on their economic stability and social supports.
Those informed of the loss of their jobs tend to go through somedefinable stages in adapting to the change. The first responseis denial, a feeling of unreality shock and disbelief. While youmay realize that the event is going to occur, it is difficult tograsp in its entirety. In some cases people will respond byexpecting that it won't happen...that something will come alongto "save" them. Regardless of the degree of denial, many peoplesimply won't be able to imagine what life will be like withdifferent routines, and different economic realities.
After the initial stage of denial comes anger. Anger towards those that made layoff decisions is common. But anger is not logical or rational, and can take the form of more diffuse anger towards many people including co-workers, family and government in general. During this period (and also the denial stage), it is difficult for people to accomplish anything constructive, since angry thoughts tend to intrude, interfering with clear planning and action.
The third stage is acceptance, where one realizes that the layoff is going to occur. While you may not be happy about the change, you begin to move towards constructive action rather than being overwhelmed by negative thoughts and feelings. You begin to envision your new life, and its details.
The fourth stage is commitment--the period in which you can be most productive in taking control of your life, and focusing on the future.
Other reactions that are common:
- feeling a loss of control
- loss of self-confidence
- sense of futility (usually temporary)
Several points need to be made about these common reactions.
First, these reactions are normal. We all experience, in some degree, these kinds of reactions. What differs, however, is the strength of the emotional reactions, and the speed with which we move from non-constructive reactions to constructive ones. So, in a sense, we are the same in some ways, but individual in others.
Second, it is also normal to be fearful, throughout all stages. The uncertainty that exists naturally causes us to worry a great deal. And with fear comes anger, and a sense of losing control over one's life. Fear and anger will not be limited to the anger stage, but may continue, in lesser degrees, even after you have settled into a new job or new life.
Suggestions for Early Survival
A central part of coping constructively with a layoff is that you need to strive to maintain a sense of control over your life. After all, your life has been changed by decisions made by others-- decision often made without your consent or involvement. What you need to consider is that you have a choice. You can be overwhelmed and paralyzed by the change, or you can grab bull by the horns, and do things that will help you change the situation, and move on. When you choose to TAKE control, you will gain control.
When you are layed off, one of the first things you need to do is examine your financial situation. Look at your resources and expenses, and look for ways to cut your expenses. As early as possible you want to develop an economic survival plan that will buy you as much time as possible. But, don't panic. Try to address your financial situation as problem solving. Develop an economic plan. The more "breathing room" you create in terms of your finances, the more confident you will feel.
A second thing to remember is that you NEED support from others through the initial period. While some people choose to keep their reactions bottled up, you don't want to become a pressure cooker, keeping your feelings inside, until you burst. Again, keep in mind that each person is different. Some people need to talk about the layoff while others are better letting off a little steam here and there. Use your knowledge about your self to determine what is in your best interest. Be willing to take advantage of any counselling opportunities that are offered, but also be aware that counsellors vary in terms of their expertise and professionalism. If you talk to a counsellor, and you find it ineffective, feel free to find someone else that can help you.
If you are offered the opportunity for training or seminars on job searches or career development, take advantage of them. Even if you don't feel like going, you will benefit by picking up some tips you may find useful, and by having contact with others in the same situation. The latter is important because it will help you realize that there are others "in the same boat", and having similar reactions.
Moving From Negative To Positive
Once you are out of your former workplace, your goals are to develop a sense of control over your life, and to keep some sense of normalcy. Giving yourself a "month off" before you start moving forward may not be a good idea, since it will be difficult to get things going again after your "vacation".
Perhaps the most important thing is to develop a constructive and useful routine. For people who have worked for many years, the old routine/schedule of work has become familiar and comforting. With this routine gone, you must create a new one.
It is important to set daily goals regarding job searches and social contact. Each evening, take a few minutes to plan your next day, just as if you were working. Make your daily goals achievable (eg. updating your resume, sending out x letters,making x phone calls). Don't set yourself up for failure by being too demanding, but also don't set your goals so they will require only limited effort. Keep to your daily schedule as if it was a job schedule, and be aware that you may develop great rationalizations to support procrastinating or other avoidance tactics. The less you accomplish, the worse you will feel.
Your mindset is going to help or hinder you. One of the best things you can say to yourself is: "I need to focus my energy on what I CAN control, not on what is beyond my control". Focus on what you CAN do, not on what you can't. Remember that control over your own life comes from attending to the details, each and every day. Your chances of finding new employment will be a function of your doing the daily job search activities, each and every day. And this is something you can do. Fire off your resumes, and make phone calls every day. Don't worry about them afterwards, but move on to the next task. Don't send a resume, and then stop until you hear back. Just keep going.
Believe it or not, losing a job offers an opportunity. Now may be a good time to examine your career and financial goals to determine whether you want to make a major change. For example, you may decide that you would prefer to strike out on your own, with your own business, or you may decide you want to secure a job that is in a different field, but uses your existing skills. Who knows, you may decide you want to relocate to a different city! Now is the time to consider ALL possibilities. Keep an open mind, and don't rule out any without careful research and consideration.
Read and learn. If you haven't been on the job market for some time, your resume, interviewing, and job search skills may be a bit rusty. Take advantage of local libraries...most have extensive collections on these subjects. By continuing to learn,
you will help your self-esteem, and feel more confident.
1. Your reactions to job loss will include anger, fear and confusion. This is NORMAL particularly at the beginning. Your goal is to move away from these reactions by focusing on the future, and taking control of your own life. If you find yourself unable to do so, consider counselling as an option. Don't let depression or inaction set in.
2. Having a routine is important. Set daily goals, and go after them. Don't let yourself gradually sink into depression through inaction.
3. Focus on what you can control, not what you can't.
4. Keep an open mind and consider any and all career options. This is an opportunity to re-examine your goals.
5. Keep learning.
6. Don't close yourself off from emotional support. At some points, talking to others can help you move from negative to positive, and can reduce your sense of isolation.