Here’s expert advice on how to land on your feet — whether you got the ax or hung on to your job.
It can happen to anyone.
Around one in 10 U.S. workers (11%) fear they’re likely to be laid off in the next year, according to a Gallup poll released in April — a mild uptick from last year’s record low of 8%, and far below the high of 21% in 2010 following the Great Recession.
Meanwhile, 26% percent of millennials aged 23 to 37 say they’ve been laid off, according to a Bank of America-commissioned survey from January; one in four regard themselves part of the gig economy and expect to have at least eight jobs over the course of their lives. (Millennials, who make up more than a third of U.S. workers, are now the largest generation in the labor force.)
And reports of mass layoffs abound: eBay revealed last week that it would cut almost 300 Bay Area jobs. General Mills plans to slash up to 625 jobs by next spring, per a report last month. Onion Inc. parent company Univision Communications reportedly has plans to reduce staff by 15%. The New York Daily News, mirroring broader economic challenges to the newspaper industry, saw 50% of its editorial staff gutted by owner Tronc this week.
But there are some ways to “make sure your layoff pays off,” social media entrepreneur Natalie Zfat told Moneyish. After Zfat, 32, got laid off in late 2008 from her two-year stint as a Rolling Stone editorial assistant, she found a way to parlay writing and storytelling skills she’d gleaned at her “dream job” into her own successful social media consulting business. “It might sound cliche, but it truly was the impetus for starting my business and the best thing that ever could’ve happened to my career,” she told Moneyish.
Here’s how to survive your first layoff, according to Zfat and others — whether you get the ax yourself or wind up weathering the cuts:
If you got laid off …
Appreciate the gift of time you’ve just received, Zfat said. “When I had a full-time job, I could barely fit in a dentist appointment,” she said. “Being unemployed is your chance to recharge — visit the doctor, think about what you want to do with your life, mourn the loss of your job, take a trip.” “Take a couple days to eat ice cream, sit in the sun, relax, feel a little bit sorry for yourself,” added Adam Smiley Poswolsky, a millennial workplace expert and author of “The Quarter-Life Breakthrough.”
Don’t take it personally. Being laid off “doesn’t identify who you are,” said millennial career and life coach Jenn DeWall, and often has nothing to do with your performance. “It’s a result of either environmental or economic factors, and maybe a strategy that didn’t turn out the way they initially planned it to,” she said. “It doesn’t have to mean that you’re not going to create value or add value wherever you go.”
Don’t be embarrassed to take unemployment. The benefits “can be a great way to give you a life raft” while you’re looking for the right new role, DeWall said. “Especially when we’re young … we feel like we have to be independent and that we shouldn’t be using that as a crutch,” she said, “when really it’s built there to help you.”
See it as an opportunity to refocus and grow. Maybe you stayed at a job you hated because it offered financial security and benefits, DeWall said. In that case, the layoff may be a “blessing in disguise” that lets you reflect on what you’re curious or passionate about, enhance your skill set, and try something new. You might also seek to challenge yourself: DeWall suggests the online educational platform Coursera.
Don’t rush back to school as a “security blanket,” DeWall said. “When things may not go the way that (some people) had planned, and they’re so afraid or concerned … the tendency is, ‘Maybe I’ll just go back to school,’” she said. “Unless you’re really certain about how school is going to add value, it’s likely just adding more stress in the form of debt, if you’re paying for that on your own.”
If you kept your job while senior, more experienced employees got cleared out …
Pay attention to how people got laid off. Did management inform workers in a personal capacity, or did people get downsized via email or video? “It will be a good indication of how they value you … as a workforce,” DeWall said. Impersonal layoffs “could be a red flag” as to whether you want to stick it out with this company, she said.
Show empathy and humility. Bianca Jackson, a branding consultant who helps job seekers find their next career opportunity, advises you “keep to yourself” and take cues from laid-off colleagues, as you don’t know how they’re handling the traumatic experience of losing their livelihoods. “Just imagine you losing your job — the last thing you want to have to do is look somebody else in the eye,” she said.
Poswolsky, meanwhile, says “it’s better to be real and vulnerable and transparent.” Acknowledge the situation is awkward, show respect and thank them for their mentorship, and ask to stay in touch if they’re open to it, he suggested. “I think a lot of times … people don’t talk to each other, which then kind of leads to people resenting each other,” he said. Having a conversation can “makes the situation much less toxic and more supportive,” he added.
Offer to help. “Millennial mentorship is real — so while someone more senior may have helped you get your interview or your job, now is really the time to offer your help to them, whether it’s looking at their website or offering to tweak their LinkedIn page,” Zfat said. “You might not have as many skills or qualifications as that person, but you might have a relationship or (an) in with someone,” Poswolsky added.
If you’re eyeing one of the newly open gigs within your company, that’s fine — just be respectful and wait a few weeks until “you know the layoffs are for sure over and those people are out the door,” DeWall said. Keep in mind the company may not be able to compensate you at the same level it compensated the previous person in that role, she added.
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