Laid Off? It’s Going To Be OK.

8 steps to help you weather the storm until you’re back on your feet.

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

Whether you saw signs it might happen or it came out of nowhere, losing your job is like a punch to the gut. And unfortunately, with record-high unemployment levels, it’s something many of us are having to face.

The stress and uncertainty can feel overwhelming and it’s hard to even know where to start. So I’ve pulled together this guide with practical advice on what to do, and to give you some structure and direction in this difficult period.

It might seem cheesy or superficial, but it’s important that during this time you’re kind to yourself. Our jobs are often very closely tied to our personal identity, and even if it was caused by factors completely outside of our control, our default reaction is to take being laid off as a reflection of our personal worth.

I can’t tell you how to think or how to feel. But what I can do is remind you that you’re more than your job and that losing your job, especially in these times, is not a reflection on you or your ability. In fact, your strength and resilience are what will get you through this.

After being laid off you may want to cut yourself off entirely from your old company. This stems from both anger and embarrassment. But before you do that, there are some pertinent questions you need to ask, either to HR or your manager.

Depending on your company and the nature of the lay-offs, this information might have already been provided to you, but it’s important you have the answers to these questions either way.

  • When will I be paid until? You need to know, to plan your budgets accordingly.
  • How will I be paid? Often your final payment is sent by check, even if you’re normally paid by direct deposit. This is important to know as you could receive the money later than you’d expect.
  • Will I be paid out for any unused PTO/leave? Depending on the company it’s unlikely, but always good to ask. Also, check your employee handbook and/or contract to see what it says about unused PTO.
  • Will I be paid any sort of severance? Again unlikely, but doesn’t hurt to ask. Also good to refer to your employee handbook or contract.
  • How long will I receive healthcare coverage? Particularly if you have active medical needs so that you can make the most of the coverage while you have it.
  • What will happen to other benefits? This could include stock options, 401k/retirement or any other benefits tied to your employment.
  • Can I get a reference letter? This will be needed for future job hunting and also for unemployment. Request that the letter specifies that you were laid off (as opposed to fired).
  • Can I get a copy of my past performance reviews? If you don’t already have these, request them for future job applications.

Apply for unemployment as soon as you can. This can take some time to process at the best of times, but you can expect further delays at the moment. The point is, you don’t want to wait until you need it to apply.

At the same time, look at what other support is available to you, even if you don’t need it at the moment. This can include food banks, legal advice (in case your employer doesn’t fulfil their obligations) or even support groups. These can vary from government support to local charities. The hope is you’ll never need to use them, but if you do you’ll be glad to know where to go.

It’s vital you don’t let pride or guilt take over here. These support mechanisms exist for exactly this reason, and you’re not a lesser person for using them. Businesses pay into unemployment and you’ve paid your taxes, so there’s nothing wrong with using it.

These benefits aren’t there just to make life a bit easier — without them you may struggle to find a new job, especially if you’re having to spend time and energy keeping your head above water. Don’t let your ego sabotage your comeback.

If you feel uncomfortable about making use of services like food banks, then make a promise to yourself: when this is over and you’re back on your feet, you’ll dedicate time and money to pay this generosity forward.

It’s an obvious one, but you need to tighten the belt immediately. The more you do now, the longer you’ll be OK. You don’t want to look back and wish you’d done more to make your money last longer.

In any budget, there are things that are fixed (like rent/mortgage), things that can be reduced (like groceries) and things that can be cut entirely (unnecessary spending). Here’s are the things I would focus on:

  • Save on food: It’s a big expense, but that means there are ways to save money. Shop cheaper — generic brands, Aldi. Be extra vigilant about waste. Be wary of bulk purchases — it’s not always the best choice.
  • Reduce unnecessary spending: Review anything that’s a ‘want’ — especially subscriptions which you pay automatically (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu etc). You don’t have to cut it all out; keep a few nice things and cut the rest.
  • Consolidate debts: If you have debts like credit cards, personal loans, car loans etc., look into consolidating. A debt consolidation loan will clear off a number of debts so you have a single payment, usually at a much lower interest rate. This will reduce your monthly minimum payments. You can also look into a balance transfer for credit cards, which can also offer a much lower interest rate and therefore monthly payment.
  • Ask for help: Get in touch with all the companies you regularly pay or owe money to, such as credit cards, cable, cell phone and electric/gas. See what options you have. You might be able to move onto a cheaper deal or get a lower interest rate on your credit card. It doesn’t hurt to ask and see what your options are.

As well as reducing your spending, you need to make the most of things you’ve already spent money on. Do an inventory of your kitchen cupboards and freezer. Ditch anything that’s no longer safe to eat or use, and whatever else you find, put to use. You might end up with some interesting meals, but you could save a lot of money.

It doesn’t have to stop with the kitchen. Do a full clear-out of your home. At the very least you’ll benefit from less clutter, and you might be able to sell things you no longer need. You’d be surprised what you can get for things on eBay and Facebook Marketplace. If that item isn’t of any use to you, it’s better off as money in your wallet.

As well as the financial and emotional impact of losing a job, there’s also disruption to your daily routine. And when you’re out of work, that lack of structure can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health.

One option would be to find an interim job, outside of your usual profession, to tide you over until you can find the job you want. This gets you back into the rhythm of working, as well as giving you a financial boost.

While unemployment is at an all-time high, there are some industries which are booming and in desperate need of people. It might not be the same kind of work or pay you’re used to, but it could be just what you need.

On top of all the things described above, your number one focus should be on finding a new job. And you should treat that as your new full-time job. Spend time carefully reviewing and updating your resume and cover letter. Reach out to recruiters, old colleagues and other connections in your network. Use this time to refresh yourself on the latest research and training in your industry.

It’s important that during this time you don’t let desperation take over. If you don’t take your time and put your best foot forward, it could show to prospective employers and harm your chances. Keep track of all active opportunities, take time to prepare for interviews, and always ask for feedback that you can take on.

Depending on your circumstances, you may feel pressured to accept the first offer you get, even if it’s not the best fit for you. In that case, remember you can accept the role and continue searching for a different role in the background.

It’s not often in life we’re given such a distinct opportunity to reflect on where we are in our lives, and where we want to be. It can be easy to jump right back into the same kind of role and industry you’ve always been in because it’s safe and familiar.

But this is your chance to potentially take a new direction. Consider things you wouldn’t have otherwise considered — a change of industry, a new career, starting your own business, or just redefining your priorities. While your short term focus will be getting back to having a stable income, this is your chance to change where you go in the long term.

Being laid off is one of the most stressful life events a person can go through. I hope this advice helps provide some comfort and support, and that you’re back on your feet in no time.

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