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What to Do if You’re Laid Off

If you’ve been laid off, or if someone you care about has lost their job recently, I want you to know you’re not alone—and you are going to be okay. We’re going to walk through some practical and effective ways for you to move forward, even in the face of fear.

But hear me on this: Just because you lose your job doesn’t mean you’ll lose everything else. Don’t let fear blow this thing out of proportion. Panic leads to irrational thoughts, which lead to irrational behaviors. Use this time to pause and regain some perspective.

At some point, you have to decide it’s time to press on. And I’m here to help you take the first step. 

What Does It Mean to Be Laid Off? 

Getting laid off happens when your employer needs to let go of team members, usually because of hard economic times. Layoffs can also happen when companies restructure or merge with another company, eliminating certain positions.

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The job market has been especially rough lately because of how the pandemic has affected businesses and the economy at large. The harsh reality is that when the economy grinds to a halt, companies simply can’t meet payroll—which leads to more layoffs. Unfortunately, most businesses aren’t letting people go because they want to, but because they have to.

Getting Laid Off vs. Fired 

Getting laid off is a result of the company’s decision, whereas getting fired is a result of your actions. Most of the time, people are fired due to poor job performance. Maybe you’ve been irresponsible and haven’t handled your tasks well, or you don’t have the skills you need to do a good job in your current position. You can also get fired due to character issues—you’re unreliable, dishonest or a bad team player.

Getting Laid Off vs. Being Furloughed 

A furlough is an extended leave of absence from a job, with the expectation that you’re going to return at some point. It’s like you’re in a committed dating relationship and hit a rough patch, so you say, “Let’s take a break.” Furloughs are a normal occurrence in some jobs—like when professors take a sabbatical (a semester off from teaching).

What to Do After Being Laid Off

You’re probably feeling a lot of emotions right now, which is to be expected. Whether you’re feeling scared or angry (or both), give yourself time and space to process before you move forward. No one makes good decisions when they’re panicked. So let’s start by calming down.

Take a deep breath.

Layoffs are shocking because they’re almost always unexpected. Lots of leaders don’t want to see their team members suffer, so they turn to layoffs as a last resort to help save the company or cut costs. The reality is that losing your job just sucks. So give yourself some time to pause, process, and find perspective.

Connect with friends and family.

When you’re ready, be open with your friends and family about your job situation. You don’t have to share all the details with everyone, and you should feel free to set some boundaries if you don’t want them to pester you with questions. The key here is to acknowledge that this is a hard time and that you’ll need encouragement.

If you’re married, be open with your spouse. Don’t let shame keep you isolated in the dark. If you have kids, talk about how this will impact your lifestyle and the time you spend together. Do whatever you have to do to get the support you need.

Tighten up the budget.

It’s scary to think about what will happen if you miss a paycheck. Hopefully you have an emergency fund (three to six months of living expenses saved up) to get you through the tough times. But whether you do or not, it’s time to sit down and make a zero-based budget based on your new income level.

EveryDollar is our budgeting app that makes it super easy to start taking control of your money (plus, it's free!). Once you make a plan for your spending, it's time to hit pause on all nonessential spending—like entertainment and gym memberships—at least until your income level is back to normal. 

Figure out what benefits you have.

Your layoff may come with some kind of financial support, whether it’s something your company gives you or something you’re eligible for outside of your company. Here are a few examples:

  • Severance pay: Your employer might offer you severance pay when they let you go. This could be a one-time payment, or it could be several payments spaced out over a few weeks or months. The Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t require that your employer give you severance benefits, so it varies from company to company.1
  • Health care: One of your options is COBRA insurance, which lets you stay on your employer’s plan for up to 18 months. But most of the time, your former employer isn’t going to pay their side of the premium, which means your monthly payments will be pretty high! You’ll probably save by getting on a government health care plan or a private plan with a high deductible. Take the five-minute coverage checkup to figure out what type of insurance you and your family actually need.
  • Unemployment: You can get unemployment insurance benefits by filing a claim with the unemployment insurance program in the state where your job was. These guidelines vary by state, so check out the U.S. Department of Labor website for more info!

Create some new routines.

Your time has been shifted around, so use it to your advantage! Maybe you can pick up that novel you’ve been wanting to read or spend more time walking around your neighborhood. Don’t stop showering, getting up at a decent hour, or exercising just because you’re not going into work. You’ve got to take care of your mental health during the uncertainty.

Job Searching After Being Laid Off

You can’t live on severance pay or unemployment benefits for long, especially if you have a family to take care of. Here are three practical ways to get back out there and look for work:

1. Use your connections to move into another field. 

If your whole industry has taken a hit this past year, it might be time to start branching out into other types of work. Be willing to step outside your comfort zone and even take lower pay for the time being.

Start your search by making a list of the people in your immediate circle who can help you get connected in another field. Reach out to them and let them know about your situation. Be bold—but not obnoxious—as you ask for work opportunities. You’ll never know unless you ask. Just be mindful and try not to reach out to someone for help at a time when they’re stressed about their own work situation. 

If you don’t have any success with asking your immediate circle, don’t be discouraged. Often, it’s not about who you know—it’s who they know. Keep asking and digging and expanding your network. It might take a few days or weeks, but if you’re persistent, you’ll start to find opportunities. And as you prepare for your interviews, make sure your resumé is in good shape!

2. Look for industries that are experiencing high demand. 

There are certain fields that always need employees, and others that have needed to hire a lot more people because of increased demand. So if you’re in an urgent situation and need some form of income until you can get back on your feet, here are a few industries where you can start your job search:

Medical: Of course, you can’t become a doctor overnight! But clinics and hospitals might be hiring support staff, especially with the recent rise in medical needs all over the world. Even if you don’t have a degree in this field, you could answer phones or file paper work. Telemedicine is also a growing industry that could use remote and contract administrative work.

Grocery: This past year, people have been eating out at restaurants less and cooking at home more. Grocery stores and supermarkets have had to hire extra people to help stock shelves and fulfill online orders. And a lot of them are open 24/7, so there are plenty of opportunities for work hours.

Cleaning services: Businesses currently need to make sure they’re complying with CDC cleaning regulations. Because of this, local cleaning companies might be experiencing a surge in demand, so check to see if anyone is hiring. 

Childcare: Lots of people who are working full time have kids at home who are doing remote learning right now. This gives you an opportunity to help families who need childcare and make some money at the same time.

Delivery services: More people are ordering delivery these days, so there’s probably an increased demand for drivers and fulfillment services. Supply-chain industries and meal kit companies (like HelloFresh or Blue Apron) are likely looking for extra help.

Security: The need for security personnel at hospitals, government organizations and hotels isn’t going away anytime soon. If you have the training in this field, see if there are any opportunities close to you.

3. Check online job boards for contract and part-time work. 

Sites like LinkedIn and Indeed update their job boards regularly with relevant and timely work opportunities. Check in often to find opportunities that match your skill set.

The industries we just talked about likely need to fill extra roles temporarily. Maybe a local media station needs administrative help to keep up with increasing news coverage, or a local catering company could use temporary drivers to deliver at-home meals. 

You Have What It Takes

There’s no question that being laid off from a job is tough. But you can use this time to your advantage if you stay calm, evaluate what it is you want to tackle next, and come up with a game plan to get back out there.

To get clear on what role is right for you, check out my Career Clarity Guide. It’s a simple writing exercise that will help you figure out where your talent, your passion and your mission intersect to find the perfect role for you!

I’m confident that you’ll come out of this stronger if you decide to rise to the challenge. You have what it takes. Press on!

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Ken Coleman

About the author

Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman is America’s Career Coach and author of the national bestselling book From Paycheck to Purpose and the #1 national bestseller The Proximity Principle. He hosts The Ken Coleman Show, a nationally syndicated, caller-driven show that helps listeners discover what they were born to do. Ken makes regular appearances on Fox News, and he co-hosts The Ramsey Show, the second-largest talk show in the nation with 18 million weekly listeners. Through his speaking, broadcasting and syndicated columns, Ken gives people expert career advice, providing strategic steps to grow professionally, land their dream job, and get promoted. Learn More.

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