March 27th, 2008 | 7:35 am

Getting Laid Off: How to Deal

filed under Managing Change

001lg.jpgThe first time you are made redundant is the worst. Sort of like losing your virginity, your expectations of the event bear very little relation to the experience. When it does happen, the reality can be both comic and tragic at the same time. But it is nearly always hard to cope with when it happens. However competent and successful you may be, you are now no longer wanted, and that hurts, especially if you’ve put your heart and soul into your work.

Unfortunately, recent financial market woes mean that more financial professionals are going to be dealing with layoffs in the near future, as discussed in this Times Online article.

Having survived being laid off (twice) and having watched my husband go through it twice too, I feel pretty well qualified to give you some pointers on how to navigate the stormy waters ahead.

First off, accept that redundancy sucks. This is the easy part. Even if you have a good manager who can soften the blow with a decent severance package and some words of encouragement, you’ll still feel absolutely lousy, unemployable and like a total dud. With any luck (and some decent planning) this will be a short phase, and you’ll bounce back and move onto the more pro-active stage where you get out and do something about the situation.

If you don’t pull out of the “I’ve lost my job because I’m a failure” pothole, you need to get some help in order to get back on track. Redundancy is right up there with bereavement and divorce on the stress-o-meter, and you might succumb to depression. You don’t need to carry on feeling awful. Open up to your friends and family, and consider seeing a counselor or therapist if you are really feeling down. The first step on the road to normality is acknowledging that you need other people to help you get through this rough patch.

I’m going to be gender-specific here and maybe get myself into some diversity hot water: I believe that women cope with redundancy better than men do because we tend not to define ourselves so much by our roles at work. I’ve seen men absolutely floored by job loss – high achievers all their lives, they didn’t cope well because they saw themselves as defined solely by their work achievements.

I never felt it was a personal thing when I was laid off during hard times for my company, but I do know men who have felt emasculated by their sudden jobless status, and felt stung by the blow of not being able to provide for their families.

Male or female, it’s better to try to view the experience as an opportunity and a challenge, so here are my tips for picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and getting another (better) job:

  1. Take a little time for yourself in the early days. Sleep late if you’re tired, get a smart new haircut/manicure/facial to boost your self-esteem. Read a couple of books, watch a movie, or phone a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Take time to get some perspective on what’s happening. It’s OK to grieve for a bit, just don’t overdo it.
  2. Leave work on a positive note if you can. This can be difficult if you worked with jerks that are making your departure less than smooth – but try for dignity. Even if you’ve been treated unfairly, don’t get angry in the office (that’s what employment lawyers are for). Colleagues will be watching, and you’ll score points for keeping your composure. You might be working with one or some of these people in the future – how you’ve coped under pressure will be remembered.
  3. Some managers are just plain lousy – they’ll try to blame you for your departure by telling you that you weren’t up to the job. Try to ignore it. You’re better off out of it if you have this sort of boss. Time to improve the quality of your manager.
  4. Irrespective of how generous your departure package may be, get some decent legal advice. A good employment lawyer can help you negotiate a good severance package, and will help you to tidy up the loose ends of leaving your job. Some employers will offer to pay a certain amount towards your legal advice, some won’t – so it’s worth checking whether you have insurance that will help cover the cost.
  5. Decide if you want to keep doing what you were doing, or move on to something you always wanted to do. Whichever you decide, you need to organize your network to help you make a move to something new.
  6. You should have been keeping in touch with your networks anyway, but if you’ve neglected it, now is the time to resurrect it. That’s not to say you should blast your resume all over town in the hope something will crop up – be strategic with it, and send the resume to a select number of people of influence who work in your chosen area. Let your circle know that you’re ready, willing and available for all good opportunities. Follow up – but don’t pester.
  7. Say thank you. Any contact, phone call made on your behalf, recommendation, referral – somebody did you a favor. A graceful thanker lingers longer in the memory. One of these days it will pay off.
  8. Be helpful and network with and for your peers: If a headhunter gives you a lead that you don’t think is right for you, go right back to him or her with suggested people who might fit the bill. That way, you’ll be first port of call when they have something come up which suits you, right?
  9. Try for a little optimism. I know one banker who was let go from his high-profile role in a bulge-bracket firm. Told he was selected for job-loss because of underperformance, it was a bitter and badly handled exit. But he went on to get a better role at Goldman Sachs, which was the best revenge. Don’t get mad – get a better job.
  10. If you are lucky enough to get another job offer sooner rather than later, it’s worth while running your latest employment contract past your lawyer. Your new contract may have clauses which could cause trouble further on down the line (like non-compete clauses), so it will be money well spent to avoid any future problems before you start working again.

Financial markets in New York and London are both about to shed large numbers of financial professionals. It may well get very messy, so it’s better to be prepared and to have mapped out your options. Having lived through it both personally and vicariously in the last two decades, I can honestly tell you that although job loss is tough, it is not the end of the world.

Handled well, it can be the start of something tremendously exciting and positive – a better future for your career and for you. Good luck.

2 comments

  1. simon

    spot on thankyou for the advice, yes its my second time been made redundant and yes it hurts when your at the top of the game with the qualifications and skillz ,although the economy is tough with the recession heading up , people are still blinded by reality thinking there job is safe time will tell

  2. Chad

    Also thank you for inspiring article, even with record sales at my previous employer (as of 2 hours ago!) they went with what I would consider substantial layoffs. I dont blame myself or the company per-say they are doing what they deem necessary. But it doesnt make it any easier on the individual especially with the holidays drawing near and the odd fact that they had given me a decent raise not less than 2 months ago? Either way I was on the edge of going back to school and with this “sign” I think they made my mind up for me. I’m not always a positive person and depression has been an issue before for me, but learning to play with the hand you are dealt and working hard for what you believe in is all we can do in these times.