Being laid off is one of the most emotionally fraught experiences you can go through in your career. It’s something many of us inevitably go through, but it can be hard to discuss with potential employers, let alone your worried friends and family.
That’s why we asked to hear your layoff stories: to commiserate over terrible workplace exits and to share wisdom from those of you who have come out of forced unemployment to live to tell the tale.
Some of you had best-case scenarios and some of you endured humiliatingly public layoffs that still haunt you. All of you were honest when asked by future employers by what had happened. Here’s what Ladders readers said.
See if you can get a heads up without causing panic
Those of you with thoughtful managers usually got a heads-up about a potential layoff. Patrick from New York said he knew that his days were numbered when “my manager came to me in March and told me it would be good for me to keep my resume up to date, that changes were coming and would be widespread.”
Later the next month, his manager’s prediction came true. The preparation he had from his manager helped him find a new job without a gap in unemployment.
“I think of this as sort of a best-case scenario for layoffs. I had a month’s unofficial warning and then a month’s official warning and then two months severance on top of that. I found a job just as the severance was running out, so I guess I needed everything I got.”
Mysterious vague meetings are usually a warning sign
Word to the wise: if your manager makes a meeting to “touch base,” you may need to pack up your stuff, as Mike from Arizona did.
“My manager set a meeting titled “Touch Base” on my calendar a couple days before. (This should’ve been my first indication of what was coming. I’d done the same thing when I had to let people go.),” he wrote.
“The day I was let go, I walked into his office and an HR person was there — someone I’d worked closely over the past couple of years. I had been through it on the other side of the desk, so after he told me I was being let go. I shook his hand, thanked him for everything, and went back to my office for a few minutes. There’s no point in prolonging the meeting or asking questions. HR is there to deflect it all anyway. I took the high road.”
Leave a good impression
Emotions are running high during the layoff, so it can be tempting to act out or be angry, but it pays off in the long run to leave a good impression on your former employer. In any case, there’s nothing productive to be gained by lashing out; once you’re laid off, the decision has already been made and it won’t be reversed.
As Mike wrote, “A few days later, I ran into one of my closest friends at work and she talked to my former manager afterward. She told him I took the news like a pro. He also said the way I handled it made him feel even worse — which, I must admit, felt good to hear! The security team, as usual, was there to make sure I wasn’t going to cause trouble. I shook their hands on the way out. They were so nice and sympathetic.”
Be prepared for a lot of emotions
Not every company is good at laying people off. Having a private decision made public also makes the layoff sting more.
Teri, who worked at a company for more than three years, said the way her news director called her into a Human Resources office “in front of everyone” left her “embarrassed, sad, angry.”
Others also had less than pleasant HR experiences that still leave lasting impressions.
“HR was absurdly concerned about getting me out the door immediately,” Anne, who had been at her company for 20 years, remembers clearly about her layoff. “They really didn’t want me to go back to my office to get my things. I insisted on it anyway. I was angry about being let go and I was angry that, after working there for 20 years, they were acting like I couldn’t be trusted. Also, the severance was stingy—12 weeks for a 20-year tenure.”
An in-person layoff feels more personal than a layoff via phone or email. For some of you, it felt like getting a phone call meant that your hard work for the company never mattered.
As Stan from New Jersey, wrote, his layoff by phone left him feeling “like a piece of trash that was discarded.”
In one “surreal” experience, Drew from New York said that after he learned about his layoff, his boss “posted my job description immediately and began interviewing my potential replacement while I was still in the office. He also tried to throw me a ‘going away’ party (I refused) and gave me a card and a bottle of booze on my last day.”
Our readers’ best advice on how to handle a layoff
“Always be nice to people. You never know who’s going to end up where and when you’ll need somebody to vouch for you.” —Ross, New York, New York
“Don’t panic. Take a day to figure out your next steps, and let your emotions subside before sending any rash emails. Also [to find a new job], strike when the iron is hot and people are sympathetic to your plight.” —Emily, New York, New York
“Negotiate. Don’t feel guilty or embarrassed. And go to the gym every day instead of sleeping late and feeling sorry for yourself.” —Drew, New York, New York
“PTO turns out not to be a very good deal if you never have the opportunity to use it.”—Tad, Oakland, California
“If it does happen to you unexpectedly, take it as an opportunity to do something better. I took a chance with a payout and eventually got a job with a much higher salary.” —Anora, New York, New York
“Know that work doesn’t define you, and if it does, there are bigger issues to deal with. You’ll find a job again.” —Josh, New York, New York
“Think about what you really want to do, what skills you have, where you might be happiest. Try not to panic. There are always ways to make money…Living through it is freeing—you know that you can survive anything.” —Susanna, Brooklyn, New York
“If you feel personally targeted, talk to your union, a lawyer right away. Otherwise keep your head up. They let you go, and you need to let them go.”—Teri, city not disclosed
“No matter how dumb an idea it was for your employer to let you go, you have to get over that pain and anger you feel. It took me over a month, but once I mentally moved on, I was able to start searching productively for opportunities I was excited about. You have to be able to talk about yourself and your career without this traumatic event dominating every detail.” —Chris, Kansas City, Missouri
“Always keep a rainy day fund to relieve the stress of extended unemployment. I manage my finances to plan for a worst-case scenario and I was financially prepared for this event.”—Anonymous, San Clemente, California
“If at all possible, take the high road and don’t say something that will make you feel good for 30 seconds only to regret it forever. You never know whose path you might again cross…If you get severance and can afford to do so, give yourself time to exhale and decompress. You need to get your mind cleared before you can start a job search.”—Mike, Phoenix, Arizona
“Act as if anything your company provides you: computer, email, cloud account, etc., could be taken [away from] you at the end of any meeting you go into, because that’s how they do.” —Patrick, New York, New York
“1. Don’t stay at work right after it happens, lest you say something you may not mean. If you have work to do before your end date, that’s fine, but take a walk, get a coffee, call a friend or a loved one, and let the shock of it pass before you see another colleague. You’ll have a lot of sympathy from coworkers and friends in this situation, and it’s best to maintain that reservoir. You’ll need it.
2. Call everyone. You never know who has a good contact, who has admired your work from afar, etc. There’s absolutely no shame in what you’re going through, so post (kindly) about your situation, let people know you’re looking, and work your network with your head up. In all likelihood this decision has nothing to do with you, your skill or your performance, so carry that pride with you.” —Matt, New York, New York