How to rebound from a layoff in Canadian tech: ‘Control your narrative’

Click to play video: 'Hootsuite and Shopify lay off thousands of employees'
Hootsuite and Shopify lay off thousands of employees
Vancouver-based tech company Hootsuite is laying off one-third of its employees. It's one of several tech businesses that are cutting their workforce. And as Kristen Robinson reports, the return to pre-pandemic life might be a reason why this is happening – Aug 9, 2022

Hundreds of Canadian workers are newly unemployed as technology companies including Shopify, Wealthsimple and Hootsuite have gone through rounds of layoffs in recent weeks amid fears that an economic downturn is looming.

A layoff can be a chance for a fresh start, and job prospects are still booming for those ready to resume the hunt, experts tell Global News.

News that Ottawa-based e-commerce giant Shopify was cutting 10 per cent of its staff late last month came as a shock to Heather Aleinik.

She was leading one of the company’s support teams in Waterloo, Ont., and, after falling ill and taking a six-month leave, had just ramped back up to full-time when she came into work that Tuesday and found her Slack access not working.

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Once the news that her job was among the cut had filtered out in emails and team meetings, Aleinik tells Global News she had roughly an hour to process what had happened and say goodbye to teammates before her work-issued laptop was remotely shut off.

“I bawled my eyes out when I first found out, because I adore my job. I love coaching, I loved my position. I worked very hard to get back there,” she says.

But the wallowing didn’t last long. With no space to “grieve” and “pick up the pieces” with her remote-working colleagues after the layoff, Aleinik turned back to the platform where she first learned of her fate. She started a Slack channel for her laid-off Shopify colleagues to gather, support each other and find leads on new work.

“If you’re not going to take care of your people once you let everybody go, I will,” she says of the decision. “And I’m going to do it in the same way that we all know how to operate.”

Heather Aleinik and her dog, Charlie. Provided

‘Pause’ before putting yourself back out there

A layoff can be “professionally traumatic,” says Mike Shekhtman, regional director in Vancouver for employment consultancy Robert Half.

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Job cuts can provoke a “range of emotions” from anger to confusion to self-doubt, and recently laid-off workers should take plenty of time to “pause” before jumping into a job hunt, he says.

“Take that couple of days to really reflect and ensure that you look at it holistically, not as something that is personal in nature. I think that’s the first step.”

Doing so can make sure that you’re not only emotionally ready to put yourself back out there, but that you understand your budget needs after a loss of income.

Click to play video: 'Budgeting and back-to-school shopping with kids'
Budgeting and back-to-school shopping with kids

When you’ve taken that time — how long is different for each person, Shekhtman says — you can do the traditional job hunting steps of updating resumes and LinkedIn profiles and reaching out to members of your network.

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He recommends reconnecting to alumni groups from college or university as well as former colleagues to explore job opportunities.

Aleinik says this is where the ex-Shopify Slack group, which now has more than 150 members, shines.

“Right now we’re seeing a lot of layoffs, but what is going to be important moving forward is relationships,” she says.

In the Slack group, members are sharing best practices for promoting yourself after a layoff, avenues and other job opportunities.

Together, the community crafted a set of guidelines for what they’re looking for in a next employer and Aleinik is vetting recruiters to let them into the channel based on whether their company meets those standards.

'Unprecedented' demand for talent

When Erin Bury was laid off from startup publication BetaKit in 2013, she said she saw the “writing on the wall pretty early on” as media companies were tightening their belts and making deep cuts at the time.

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When she reached out to her network back then, she says what helped her was keeping her questions broad and taking the time to explore what she really wanted. As working adults, we rarely have opportunities to take pauses in our professional lives and consider whether the work we’ve been doing for our career is really what we want to be doing, Bury notes.

“I, at least, saw it as an opportunity to kind of reevaluate what I loved about my last role, what I was missing, what I was really wanting to do next,” she says.

Instead of targeting a particular role in a specific company, Bury recommends thinking about what you enjoy doing, what kinds of teams you like working on and setting your direction from there.

While some big-name tech companies are going through rounds of layoffs as investor interest in the space cools, Shekhtman notes that other industries would welcome job hunters with open arms as Canada’s “unprecedented” low employment rate keeps talent scarce.

Some 40 per cent of companies are still planning to add new hires in the second half of 2022, according to a Robert Half survey of Canadian managers released last week. Half of employers surveyed said they’ll be looking to fill vacated roles while only two per cent indicated plans to downsize.

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Some workers might find a new direction re-skilling and taking training courses to address gaps in the health-care sector or tourism industry, both of which are facing labour shortages, Shekhtman says.

“We’re still seeing very much a demand for skilled professionals. That doesn’t seem to go away,” he says.

Self-employment as a new purpose

Bury, now the CEO of Toronto-based online will company Willful, feels her layoff nearly a decade ago was more of a blessing than a curse.

Realizing that what she was passionate about was building brands and working on small teams, in the years after her layoff she found herself taking over a small marketing agency and then launching her own “side hustle” — a bicycle wine tour company in Prince Edward County.

Bury says she basically had to jump into the agency role because she needed something to stay afloat after losing a source of income, and notes that having a side hustle, while admittedly a grind, can help to give workers “financial flexibility” during a layoff.

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“That focus on diversification of income is a really great way to make sure all of your eggs aren’t in one basket. So when you’re laid off, it’s not your entire income that’s wiped out in one shot,” she says.

Similar to Bury’s side hustles, Aleinik launched a coaching gig on the side six months ago as she was ramping back up to full-time at Shopify, focused on helping neurodivergent and differently abled workers progress in the workplace.

While she says she’d love to make that her new full-time gig, she also says she’s interviewing at tech firms to keep her options open and find a role that can provide the foundation she needs to keep growing her coaching work.

“If we’ve learned anything from these layoffs, it’s that we cannot rely on one employer to stand up for their employees,” she says. “That’s kind of where my mind is. It’s not on one thing, it’s on, ‘How many channels can I build for myself so that I never find myself in this position again, where I’m kind of stuck?’”

Bury’s husband was laid off at a similar time as her, which, while difficult for the pair to absorb in the moment, ultimately set them on the path to found Willful together. She reflects now that it was “one of the best things that ever happened to us.”

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In that vein, Aleinik says the most common theme in her Slack messages to former Shopify employees focuses on bouncing back and finding renewed purpose in their next steps.

“You can control the narrative from this part,” she says.

“It’s just you have to decide how you’re going to rebound and what you’re going to do from here.”

Click to play video: 'Layoff rules: What employers and workers need to know'
Layoff rules: What employers and workers need to know

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