‘What am I doing with my life?’: How to cope after a layoff

Even though your time at the company has come to an end, you don’t want to leave on bad terms. Getty

Michael Rousseau was working for a large telecommunications company for nearly eight years when he got laid off in 2014.

“Some people had already been let go that day who were on my direct team, so when I got that call [from human resources], I thought, OK this is my turn,” he said to Global News.

Knowing what was about to happen, Rousseau gave his co-workers a hug and went to his meeting. There, human resource workers said the company was restructuring and laid out the details of his severance package.

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“We had about 15 people on our team, and then they knocked it down to about six,” he said. “Almost my whole team was gone, pretty much.”

While Rousseau felt a sense of relief at first, in the coming weeks and months, he felt depressed.

“I was happy in the beginning that I was kind of free, but then it was like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ I was going to this place for eight years, [and] then I didn’t have that anymore,” he said. “It was a weird change.”

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Be aware of your emotions

According to Alan Kearns, the managing partner and founder of CareerJoy, it’s very common to feel a range of emotions after getting laid off.

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“You may feel a lot of loss, which is the initial response of grief. That’s normal,” Kearns told Global News. “Losing a job is like [losing] any other thing in your life.”

For 29-year-old Lili (who asked Global News to only use her first name), getting let go from a broadcasting company in 2018 came as a shock. She had recently relocated to another province for the opportunity, and was eager to grow in her role.

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“[Getting let go] made me feel as if I had no future in… journalism because I got a good job and wasn’t up to the task,” she said to Global News. “I felt like it was the end of the world, and I couldn’t believe what happened.”
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Remain professional in your reaction

Kearns said that peoples’ reaction to layoff news can be so strong that many react based on their emotions. He advises that while you may be upset personally, it’s best to remain as professional as possible when it’s happening.

“We’ve all said things out of frustration and anger or fear, and so it’s really important in that scenario that you don’t react or say things in those circumstances,” he said.

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Perhaps tempting, it’s not a good idea to swear, say offensive things to your employer, or storm out of the workplace. Even though your time at the company has come to an end, you don’t want to leave on bad terms — especially if you might need a reference for future work.

“People sometimes post things on Twitter or Facebook about their frustration or their feelings about what happened, but that’s extremely unwise for a bunch of reasons,” Kearns said.

He pointed out that what you post online can affect your future job prospects, and can also harm your personal brand. Even if you delete something after the fact, things don’t really ever “disappear” online.

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What to take and what to leave

After you get the news, you may be inclined to rush to your work computer and send files or documents to your personal email — but Kearns advises against this. Often, a workplace owns the projects you were working on while employed there, and the data may not belong to you.

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“You have to be really careful at that moment … you shouldn’t be emailing files once you’ve been impacted, unless they’re personal files and you’ve had a conversation with your employer about that,” he said.

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“There’s been lots of cases where people email the wrong stuff — stuff they shouldn’t be emailing — and there’s going to be impact on your professional career if that happens.”

Kearns advises that you should also keep a copy of personal files and emails offsite, like in another email account or hard drive, so if you find yourself locked out of a computer, you aren’t at a loss.

Get legal counsel

If you’ve received a severance package, Kearns said it’s a good idea to get a professional opinion on the offer. In the heat of the moment, people may be inclined to just sign documents or skim over the fine print, but seeking legal counsel first is smart.

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“Most employers are going to be providing a fair package, but it’s best to seek legal counsel to make sure there’s nothing in there that’s been missed,” Kearns said. The longer you’ve been at a company, or the more senior your role, there may be more conditions to consider.

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“For an hour of an employment lawyer’s time, it’s well worth it,” he said. “Because once you’ve signed off on your [severance] package, there’s no going back to it.”

Take some time off

While you might be inclined to jump right into the job hunt, Kearns said it’s important to take some time to reflect on your last job and figure out what worked and what didn’t work for you. That way, you’ll have a better understanding of what role you want to have in your next job.

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“You want to make sure you’re getting the right opportunities,” he explained. “Do an analysis of where you’ve been, where are you now, and where you want to go. You have an opportunity to start fresh… so instead of reacting, the very first thing should be analyzing and setting out a plan.”

Rousseau said being laid off gave him the time to pursue his passions and helped him get to where he is now. While working at his former full-time job, he was also working as a photographer on the side.

“[After the layoff] I hit a lull… and I woke up one day and said, ‘You have to get this together.’ I started reading books about business and going to the gym again… and that helped me get back into a better space,” he said.
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Now, he works as a photographer and created a new music-based card game called AUXGOD.

“The layoff allowed me to spread my wings a bit and try something new,” he said. “Now, when I look back, I’m happy that it happened… It was such a blessing in disguise.”

Reach out for help

Sometimes a new job lands in your lap if you’re well-connected or in the right place at the right time, but for many people, getting a new gig takes work.

Depending on your profession, online groups or networks can be useful for sharing job postings. For Lili, being part of journalism groups on social media helped her secure her new job.

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“I applied to jobs I saw [on those groups] and jobs on websites,” she said. “The job that I have now, I applied to it a few hours after it closed. I [messaged] one of my now supervisors about my application, and I got a request for an interview the following week.”

Outside of networking, Kearns said resume help and career counselling can be incredibly beneficial — especially if you haven’t been on the job market for years.

“It’s extremely competitive in a complex job market,” Kearns said. “It’s important that you’re getting good support.”

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