by Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
It Starts Like Any Other Day
You get up and get ready for work. It starts like any other day. Then, something happens that is a portent of doom:
Whether you have a one-on-one (plus an HR representative) meeting with your soon-to-be-former boss or receive an awkwardly worded email that part of you thinks must be spam or a joke, you are now among the newly unemployed.
Some days, you go to work with lots of plans and come home with a white box filled with all of your workly possessions.
Welcome to the suck.
It's hard to know what to do when you suddenly find yourself out of work. Even if there were rumblings about a possible reduction in force (RIF) at your company, it's still surreal when you realize your job is now over.
Whether you loved your job, hated it, or felt somewhere in between, it's time to deal with your current emotions, assess your current state, and (above all) not do anything particularly counterproductive as you figure out what to do with yourself.
Based on the crazy number of layoffs I've navigated, here are my suggestions for your next steps.
Step 1: Process Your Emotions
Curse you, feelings!
Losing your job, even through no fault of your own, is an emotional roller coaster. Given how much of your life you spend at work, suddenly not having the same job is a huge change. In fact, it’s the same level of change as things like getting divorced, having a close friend die, or going to prison. You may feel fine one moment, angry the next, then ecstatic, then in tears. Realize this is completely normal.
Just like dealing with a death in the family, you’re dealing with the death of the future you thought you had. Losing that imagined future, regardless of your job’s role in your life, is a significant loss that needs to be addressed. Figure out how you will cope with these changes. You might choose positive ways (exercise, reconnecting with friends, journaling) or negative (overeating, overthinking, or a good old-fashioned bender). Find your emotional support people and confide in them. Talk to your partner, family, and friends. Find a support group (in-person, online, or both) to help you work through it.
As much as you may want to jump over the part where you have to admit you have feelings that influence how you live your day-to-day life, you need to address them—whether it happens now or later. During one of my layoffs, I was going through many new and exciting (read "stressful”) life changes all at once. Then, I compartmentalized and focused on the business of moving and finding a new job. Once I was in my new job, I pretty much worked during the day and went through the process of dealing with all of the life changes at night. Do what works for you.
A Note About Social Media
As you process your feelings, be cautious about sharing right away (and/or in great detail) on social media. Give yourself 24-72 hours to feel your feelings and talk to the individuals in your support system offline. After you have had a little time to process, then decide what to post publicly. Be sure to get your head straight before sharing anything with the masses.
Step 2: Review Your Finances
Disclaimer: (You know there has to be one of these now that we're talking about topics like personal finances and health insurance.)
While I know quite a bit based on my previous work experience supporting financial coaches, my own research, and my personal life experiences, I do not currently hold a license or certification to give financial advice. Therefore, the information provided here is educational information provided as guidance.
I hope you can glean value from my lessons learned. Feel free to take my recommendations or not—but whatever you do, double-check my facts (and everyone's facts, for that matter). This is your life, and you will care more about your finances and health care than anyone else. With that, read on.
Possible Money From Your Former Employer
Most of us work because we have expensive habits to support—like living indoors and eating on a regular basis. When a job ends, there are financial concerns that need to be addressed pretty quickly. The money coming into your household will change A LOT, and it's time to get your arms around those changes.
While you won’t have the income from your job, you will receive your final paycheck, possibly vacation time that you have earned and, hopefully, a lovely parting gift from your former employer in the form of a severance package.
If you do receive severance, the amount can vary wildly. In fact, it could be between a fat lot of nothing, to the equivalent of a paycheck or two, to 1-2 weeks of pay for each year you were with the organization, to a big old check from a tech firm doing widespread changes and wanting to be spoken well of in the media. As an extra added bonus, if you do receive severance, realize that it may be less money than you think because of taxes withheld or other various and sundry deductions.
If you get a severance package, realize you will need to sign something before receiving that money. Once you sign, any thoughts you might have about legal action regarding your employment with the organization are pretty much over. Read the agreement given to you, consider having a lawyer look it over, and ask for clarifications (and any revisions) before signing it. After that, there is typically a waiting period before you receive that money. This is big-time adulting here, so enlist help as needed.
While your regularly scheduled income from your previous employer may end, in most cases with a layoff, you will be eligible for unemployment income. In short, apply for unemployment payments. The money used to make unemployment payments comes from the payroll taxes that employers pay. This money is intended to help people who have been laid off from their jobs to help fund the time it may take them to find a new, comparable job.
Unemployment payments are administered by each state and vary from state to state. (I'll include a link at the end of this article.) After you apply for unemployment payments, there may be a waiting period before you receive a payment (in Minnesota, there is one "nonpayable week" before payments begin.) Your state will also outline the amount of each payment you will receive, the number of payments you are eligible to receive, and additional factors impacting your payments. You may also be eligible for job search support services and even programs to help you upgrade your skills. To learn more, visit this link and click on your state for additional details about unemployment and related benefits and services.
In short, apply for unemployment income right away. In most cases, there is not a reason to forgo unemployment payments.
A Note About The Joy That Is Health Insurance
In the United States, where health insurance for people of working age is often employer paid, thinking through health insurance implications of a job change is critically important.
Since many people rely on their employer for health insurance coverage, figuring out this aspect can be tricky. If you are fortunate enough to have a spouse/domestic partner/parent who can bring you onto their health insurance, check that out right away. In general, if you were covered by an employer's plan, and lose that coverage, you will be eligible to switch to another employer sponsored plan. Be sure to at least ask that question of that other potential employer-sponsored health care coverage.
If that's not an option, you have a few more decisions to make. If you do receive a severance package, health insurance coverage for some period of time may be included. Find out if your previously employer sponsored health insurance coverage is paid for by the employer, or if you will receive money to cover the cost of coverage. (These are two very different things.) You may also be eligible for COBRA coverage, which means that you would continue your previously employer paid health insurance, but pay for it yourself. Be sure to brace yourself when you see the amount that you will now be charged for that coverage--because it is usually A LOT more than you paid as an employee.
If you are not willing and/or able to continue with your previous employer's health plan, you may be able to go on the insurance exchanges to find coverage--which may even be subsidized given your new lower income level. Alternatively, for shorter term coverage against something super big and awful happening, you can check out short-term health care options. The coverage is not as comprehensive as what is on the exchange, but it's also way less expensive. Depending on your situation, you may also opt for the “be careful” health plan (no health coverage, but no sky diving either). Figure out what makes the most sense to you, and how to mitigate any risks you take.
Step 3: Prepare For Your Job Search
Now that you are without a job, you need to figure out how to get a new job—which is no small effort. Think about what kind of a job you want and write it down. Take time to think about the job titles, possible employers and salary range you want to target. It’s hard to find what you want until you actually know what you want to find. Get your resume updated (if you haven’t already). You may even need a couple of different basic resumes if you’ll be applying for different types of jobs. Figure out how to highlight your unique skill set and showcase what problems you can help your potential employer solve.
From here, start letting people know about your new status of being “in transition” (not unemployed) and ask people for help. Many times, people offer help. Letting them know specifics on how they can help will do wonders. Perhaps they can introduce you to people who work at one of your target companies. Perhaps they know about a position that has not yet been advertised. Perhaps they know someone who knows someone who you should talk to. Maybe they have a lead on an up and coming company who needs someone just like you. Rely on those working relationships that you have built and put them to work. (Also remember that this is a two-way street. Be sure to help your fellow job seekers, or people who are trying to fill positions. Creating mutually beneficial relationships helps everyone.)
Keep in mind there are additional resources beyond your current network. Just like with emotional support, there are groups that can help with job searching. Check out LinkedIn groups, in-person meetups, and seminars on how to network. Find a professional group and meet those people. The more people you meet, the better chance you will have to find a new position that is right for you.
First off, this is A LOT of information to manage, and you don't have to do all of this alone. Be nice to yourself and know that you can totally do this.
Through my many, many layoffs, one thing has remained true. I have always ended up in a better place, both personally and professionally, than I would have expected. I learned new skills, met new people and made life changes that I probably needed to make, but I only did when life gave me the shove I needed
Remember, this whole process is a lot, but you can totally do this. I, for one, am here with information and resources to help you navigate some of the yuck as you create your new reality. You've got this.
7-time layoff survivor Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady, waxes poetic on layoffs, job transitions, & career resilience.