As I support clients who have been impacted by layoffs, it’s clear that many are in a grief cycle. And to make matters worse, they often aren’t aware and thus aren’t equipped with tools to process what they’re experiencing. I witness them locked in cycles of self-doubt, anger, and confusion.
After layoffs, people are told to dust off their résumés and start networking. “Be happy!” they hear, or “Get yourself out there!” Yet they can easily end up in a spin cycle as they watch their severance/unemployment dwindle, lacking the confidence to move forward. Shame and imposter syndrome set in. Grief is occurring. It’s truly heartbreaking to witness.
When we’re laid off, we’re expelled from our tribe, kicked out of our community, sometimes abruptly. Companies have been known to make employees feel like criminals during the process. There are stories of employees learning of their layoffs because they lose security badge access or are blocked from trying to log into their computers or accounts. Can you imagine attempting to swipe into work like you have every day but suddenly your badge doesn’t work? You may well be able to imagine it because it may have happened to you. Or maybe you found out about your layoff in an email. I once saw my name listed on a spreadsheet.
In 2007, I was working for a technology company as a recruiting / community relations manager. I loved my role and the company, and I had an incredible tribe of co-workers—a tribe I had had a significant hand in building during my seven-year tenure as the company’s recruiter. The morning following New Year’s break, my manager notified me that she was exiting the company and that I would be promoted to her role as Director of Human Resources. I was stunned and felt intense imposter syndrome. But I took the promotion anyway, knowing that when one is offered, we should always say yes. We can grow into those big boots if everyone else believes we can. If we say no, we may not be asked again.
The day I was promoted, I was also put under NDA; we were being acquired. My three-month term as Director of HR would serve only to move along the acquisition process and prepare for the exit of so many of those I had hired and come to treasure.
Two months later, I was reviewing a layoff spreadsheet and saw my name. I was taken aback but remained naively hopeful that there was still a spot for me on the proverbial bus (a reference to Jim Collins from his book Good to Great). I asked my CFO and the acquiring company’s VP of Human Resources if the spreadsheet was accurate. They ghosted me.
I was the first one laid off and the last one to receive the notice. They had me hand out all the packets, and then, of course, mine was missing. It was missing because an executive on the acquiring team was waiting to deliver it himself.
Fortunately, I maintained amazing friendships and professional connections with those co-workers, but that’s not always the case. I’m now hearing that some people, some with tenures of more than 20 years, are being ghosted by former co-workers, and treated as though they’re diseased. Talk about salt in the wound. I can’t even imagine. But buck up, we tell those who have been recently laid off. Dust off your résumé and go jump on this merry-go-round again.
So how do we acknowledge—and move past—the grief?
When my company handed me the severance package, I declined it and turned in my two weeks’ notice. They had wanted me to stay for a month to continue helping with the transition; in exchange, I would get a cash payout. The catch? I had to sign a non-solicitation agreement, essentially agreeing that I wouldn’t recruit anyone out of the company. Well, that wasn’t going to happen. I was a recruiter, and I knew the goldmine I had there and how many of my former co-workers would be looking for new opportunities. So, I booked a trip to Europe for two weeks from the date of my notice, thus avoiding the temptation to take their offer and allowing me an exit as quickly as possible.
And what a fabulous trip that was.
Upon returning, I landed a new role quickly working for friends at an agency-based staffing company. Within a few months, I had earned the equivalent of the forfeited severance in placement fees by recruiting staff I had poached from my former employer. Yes, it was sweet. I may have opened a bottle of Champagne the night of the final placement. I took control of my situation, but I still had a lot of anger. To defuse the anger that remained, I did what I always do: I wrote.
How to Defuse Post-layoff Energy
I’m a firm believer in mind / body / spirit healing. When we only address one aspect, we miss the opportunity to fully heal; when we address all three aspects, true balance can occur. Trapped energy is a very bad thing. It is often the culprit in health issues. Find a way to get it out. Here are some ways I use to dispel energy:
Clearing the Mind – My best remedy for working through grief is writing. Be it on paper or a computer, journal your thoughts, vent your anger, drop F-bombs, cry as you type, let whatever comes come, but get the words out. When you’re finished, release it. Maybe that’s printing out and burning or shredding what you wrote. Perhaps you feel called to send the writing to friends who will be able to see your grief on a different level and gift back empathy. After my layoff, I wrote “Prozac Salt Lick,” a sarcastic short story inspired by conversations with an engineer friend during high-stress moments during the acquisition. If writing isn’t your thing, find a therapist or someone like me, a career / life coach. Think of me as a career therapist. Whoever it may be, find a good listener, someone who can listen to your pain and help you release it.
Calming the Body – Screaming / crying / punching—a bag or pillow, not a body—can help with physical release. Go to a rage room. Dance fast to loud music. I love to go on long walks in the woods near my home. Time in nature helps bring us back into homeostasis and calm our nervous system. Sometimes, we need other tools such as herbal support; be careful to not numb yourself with alcohol or heavy drugs. They don’t heal us, they mask symptoms so we can’t feel. And, the use of them invites the danger of dependencies that may inflict long-term damage on our bodies and relationships. I’m certainly a fan of a glass or two of wine here and there but I don’t use it to avoid facing and healing pain.
Supporting the Spirit – Maybe this concept is new to you, but we have energetic systems that run our bodies and sometimes they get out of whack and need an adjustment. Energy work such as Reiki or craniosacral therapy (there are many modalities) help to balance our chakras and energy systems. I have a friend who uses sound to provide healing. Maybe you want to seek out a spiritual / religious group for support or a spiritual guide who can help offer a larger lens of perspective. I often engage in these conversations with clients who are looking for this kind of support.
How to Rebuild Confidence
It can be so hard not to believe that it’s your fault that you got laid off. You may have thoughts that tell you that if you had just worked harder and had you made yourself more indispensable you would have been spared, that you’d still be on the inside with your co-workers. The reality is that layoffs almost always come down to numbers and headcount; it’s very likely that the decision had nothing to do with your performance.
To begin to rebuild your confidence, talk to former co-workers from previous jobs. They can help you remember your value and contributions.
One of my favorite ways to help bolster someone’s confidence is to create a 360 report. The 360 reports I create ask questions such as:
- What do you see as my greatest strengths?
- How do you feel after spending time with me?
- How would you describe me to others?
Clients ask a cross section of their contacts to answer the questions. The answers provide a dashboard of uplifting responses, affirming the clients’ value in professional as well as personal terms.
I’m not gonna lie: Part of the process of moving forward requires the willingness to be burned again. We have to put ourselves back out there and believe in the greater good that exists. In Brene Brown’s words, we have to choose to step into the arena:
“I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage, or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both.”
The arena is vulnerability. Everything we want is on the other side of vulnerability.
Establish a Personal Board of Advisors
Who are the people you go to for guidance and support when you are feeling uncertain? I refer to these people as my Personal Board of Advisors. They don’t know they have that designation in my life and not all the members know each other. My advisors include my business coach, an executive coach who is also a friend, my astrologer, my spiritual coach, and a client turned friend. These individuals form my core sounding board when I need to be reminded of my awesomeness. They’re generally the ones who get access to my most vulnerable writing. They’re my sanity check.
Who would sit on your personal board? Are you investing in those relationships? If not, maybe it’s time to put more intention there. Note: The people who ask you for advice won’t necessarily be your advisors, too. There are people in my life who rely on my counsel but aren’t the people I ask when I need support. Support is very individualistic. If you find that some people can’t provide the support you need, look for others.
Build a Budget
If you don’t already do this, put numbers on paper and look at your budget. Have a clear sense of when your financial runway will run out. We often confuse our emotional runway with our finances. You may have a bigger cushion than you believe, but the scarcity mindset often hovers over those who have been laid off and it can take hold quickly. Tame it with data.
I fear that capitalism and business is dismantling trust regarding employment. What damage are we doing to ourselves collectively with this normalization of layoffs? People have whiplash as they’re forced to play the game. Companies expect us to show up, loyal and dedicated and working long hours, but then seem to decide on a dime that they no longer need us.
I’m pissed as I write this. I’m shouting from my keyboard. Last night at dinner, I told my husband that I was writing this post and sharing my layoff story, and I started crying. I’m still holding onto emotions around what happened. I still feel loss that I didn’t get to continue with my company. I felt such a sense of belonging there.
We’re getting kicked out of our communities over and over again. Those who remain may ghost us and then we’re left to wonder if any of it was authentic. Were those really our work friends?
With awareness, we can work on healing. I’m eternally grateful for the direction my life has taken since my layoff, but there’s an acknowledgment that damage was done and more healing is needed.
I think I’ll book a Reiki session and explore this.