Wendy Turner-Williams thought she was on the verge of a promotion. Instead, the former chief data officer at Tableau got laid off.
Turner-Williams is one of more than 57,000 tech workers dealing with the emotional and financial stress of being laid off over the past two months as hundreds of companies trim headcount amid a shaky economy.
“So what is next for me? I do not know,” Turner-Williams wrote in a LinkedIn post last week. “Like so many of you, the economic uncertainty, coupled with the chaos, feelings of loss of control, uncertainty and frankly fear of the unknown are having a toll.”
Layoffs can be a rattling experience, both in the moment and for the days and months that follow. Feelings of shame or failure can set in. Getting laid off can impact social relationships and family systems.
Some research shows that unemployment is linked to anxiety, depression, and loss of life satisfaction. Even when someone lands a new job, memories may linger.
“That uncertainty stays with us. It happened once and it could happen again,” said Mikaela Kiner, CEO of Seattle HR consultancy firm Reverb. “It just kind of changes your mindset around work.”
For those who remain at a company following layoffs, survivor’s guilt can set in, as well as anxiety about being next to get cut.
The managers who have to deliver the bad news also deal with heightened stress.
“It’s hard for everybody, and it should be,” Kiner said. “This should never be easy.”
We reached out to recently laid off tech workers, HR experts, leadership coaches, psychologists, and others to learn about the effects of layoffs and get their advice for those impacted. Read on for more insights.
If you’ve been laid off:
- Get calm. “The human brain does not make good decisions when it is overwhelmed with negative emotions,” said Amy Mezulis, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of Seattle startup Joon Care. So make sure you take time to get calm and centered before making any plans or taking action.
- Take care of yourself. “It’s OK to feel bad about it. Work is a big part of our identity,” said Sandy Matus, vice president of people at Seattle startup Textio. The five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — can apply to losing a job, and not necessarily in that specific order. “People will experience all of those emotions at some point,” said Dede Henley, CEO of Henley Leadership Group in Seattle. Many employees can access mental health support via employee assistance programs, noted Kiner.
- Make sure you understand what’s happening. Figure out any remaining work expectations; understand how long your benefits last; gather severance details; and know your last day of employment.
- Put together a financial plan. Determine what you can or can’t do if you’re not earning money, or if you’re getting unemployment payments. “If you have a three-month plan, it’s really helpful,” said Matus.
- Talk to others. Reach out to the people in your life, both personal and professional, and let them know what’s going on. “What’s been helpful to me has been real human connection,” said Lara Green, a visual designer in Seattle who was laid off last year. Mezulis agrees: “Social support is absolutely necessary to coping effectively with stress and loss,” she said.
- Remember your value. Confidence can take a hit after being laid off and while searching for a job. Talking to former colleagues or bosses is a helpful reminder of the experience and skills that set you apart, Green said. Those people can also provide recommendations and endorsements for your LinkedIn profile.
- Don’t fret over what happend. Most of the time, you’ll never know the whole story about why you were laid off. “You want to know the ‘what’ that comes next, instead of focusing on the ‘why’ it happened,” said Dontae Delgado, a product manager who was laid off this summer and just landed at Amazon. Delgado adds: “Do not attach your value to the layoff.”
- Ask for help. This is not the time to be shy about asking for favors, said Matus. Let your former colleagues or bosses know that you’re looking for a new gig. Join networks or other groups and share your interest in finding a job.
- Be kind to yourself. Mezulis advises people to practice self-compassion. “Challenging situations often unveil a whole host of negative internal dialogue,” she said. “Our brain becomes filled with a chorus telling us all the things we should have or shouldn’t have done, that we should or shouldn’t do, or ways in which we have failed ourselves or others.” Instead, treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Give the kind of reassurance, care, support and kindness to yourself, in the same way you’d help a friend.
- Stay active. Turner-Williams channeled her energy into outdoor projects, such as harvesting blackberries in her backyard. “There is nothing like some blood, sweat and tears mixed with sheer determination to help ground you,” she wrote on LinkedIn.
- Stay positive. Henley’s personal career trajectory may provide optimism to those recently laid off. Henley herself was laid off from a job years ago. She was shocked and stunned. But it forced her to get creative about her next career move. She didn’t want somebody else in charge of her future, so Henley launched the Henley Leadership Group. The business has been around for more than 30 years. “It’s the best thing I ever did,” Henley said, “and it came out of that.”
If your colleagues got laid off:
- Focus on what you can control. Take the opportunity to clean up your resume and create a list of all your accomplishments. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date. Start developing a Plan B and a Plan C. Join industry groups and get in touch with people in your professional network.
- Create contingency plans. A guide on dealing with layoff anxiety from the Harvard Business Review notes that deploying “defensive pessimism” can be a powerful exercise in helping provide some level of control.
- Talk to your manager. Get a better understanding of the state of the company, and also learn how you can improve your own skills and increase your credibility.
If you’re laying off employees:
- Lead with empathy, care, and compassion. Each step of the layoff process should be done in a thoughtful way, including how the news is communicated to both those affected and those who are not. “Leaders need to bring a lot of empathy to each of those conversations,” Kiner said. Doing so can pay dividends — those leaving the company may continue to champion the brand if they are treated well on the way out, while employees that remain can feel more comfortable about the road ahead — and as a result, perform at a higher level.
- Prepare managers. The role of managers delivering layoff news to impacted employees can be overlooked. “Execs and individuals get most of the attention, but middle managers have the toughest emotional labor right now,” Textio CEO Kieran Snyder wrote on LinkedIn. Companies need to make sure managers completely understand why the layoffs are happening and are prepared to answer questions, Matus said.
- Help beyond severance or benefits. One of the biggest safety nets a company can provide beyond health insurance or money is helping laid off employees rebuild their resume and get ready to interview for new jobs, said Matus. Companies can also offer introductions to other employers, or compile lists of impacted employees that can be used by recruiters elsewhere.
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