Over my entire working career…starting in 1972, I’ve been laid off 8 times: twice as a house carpenter in south Florida (the first time right after my daughter was born) when the building boom busted; once as a geologist in the oil business when the oil boom busted in 1986; 5 times in different marketing/technical communications positions in the high-tech industry due to reorganizations or the economic state of the industry/company. The quality of my work or my professionalism was never a factor in those layoffs. I survived my share of layoffs as well, but–except for one instance–I came out of every layoff with a better position and higher salary.
But of the high-tech layoffs, three of them occurred within two weeks of Christmas. The last layoff was the “easiest” to get through for a few reasons: (1) the severance package was a very good one (got paid for the remaining 2 weeks of the year plus a week of unused vacation; another 4 months’ worth of salary, and company-paid COBRA for a couple months); (2) my family was in a very good financial position that minimized the effect of losing my job even after the severance was depleted; (3) the company put on a good outward face to investors and analysts but internally was run like a Chinese laundry, so there was no separation regret, sorrow, or anxiety.
The downside of this last layoff had a few elements as well: (1) I missed working with a great team of individuals who had been together for several years; (2) I was a couple years away from retiring (i.e. = working on my own projects of interest) and wasn’t able to walk away on my own terms; (3) I lost several thousand Restricted Stock Units that I had been granted as rewards for past annual performances because they had not vested yet; and (4) I still had to work through the emotional kick in the stomach–regardless of whether I hit the Powerball Jackpot the day before. Being laid off–even if you have millions in the bank–can’t remove the blow to your ego or self-esteem for a day or so because you never hear the real reason why you are being let go. The closest you’ll get is corporate speak that sounds like, “The company regrets to inform you that it no longer has a need for your services.”
(I thought about just hanging it up and “retiring” a few years before our goal; however, it would have meant that we would have fewer and less frequent vacations for awhile, and traveling is what we love to do as a family. So, I made the decision to see if I can fill the remaining two years with contract work.)
The whole scenario of being let go from your job is uncomfortable. Either your manager or someone from security is watching you pack up your personal belongings in a scrounged-up cardboard box as others around make themselves scarce because they don’t know what to say or hover uncomfortably nearby–like buzzards near roadkill ready to scavenge what you leave behind in your cube. Your email access is likely already cut off so you can’t send out that last farewell email to your peers and c0-workers, and can’t go the bathroom without someone letting you back in the office because you had to turn in your security access card immediately.
Yes, you still have to deal with the emotional kick to the gut, but I can assure you: as you mature in your career, it gets easier. You have a wider network of contacts to alert for potential job openings or contracting positions; you may have a monetary cushion–a rainy day fund–to help you deal with such unforeseen contingencies.
A strategy I used throughout my career was to build relationships with people I worked with; whether I was a member of a team, an individual contributor, or a team manager, I tried to always display a servant’s attitude. I made it one of the features of my professional brand. A servant attitude over time becomes an expertise that others will seek you out for. You will be seen as a resource, an expediter, who can connect people with other people or people with other ideas. Zig Ziglar wrote that “if you help enough people get what they want, eventually you will get what you want.” In that order: help others first, but do it without any expectation of reward or favor. Do it because it’s the right thing to do and it will pay off huge dividends.
I remember the day before my last layoff, I received a LinkedIn request from a friend I had worked with for more than a dozen years. We had worked together at two different companies and on the same projects. After I got home on the afternoon of my last layoff, I responded to his LinkedIn request and sent him a message that the company had just handed me my walking papers and that after the first of the year, I’d be looking for some contract work, so if he heard of any opportunities to please let me know.
He responded two minutes later: “I was thinking about you for some time now and hoping to connect you with my team. I have some connections to the XYZ project team and you would be a great resource to tap. I will gladly buy you lunch to catch up anyway.” The next week, we had lunch and I received a very nice contract after the start of the new year.
True story. I have no doubt that the years I spent learning how to foster relationships up and down the corporate ladder, helping others succeed, and strengthening the quality of my professional brand were instrumental in getting back on my feet quickly. Once your professional brand has been established, others will “polish” it (promote it) for you, as my friend did, and that led to that great contracting opportunity.
I would be remiss here not to state that after having fretted about losing my job and threats to my family’s financial security early in my working career, I have learned the lesson of I Chronicles 16:34, which states, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
And serendipity played a role here, too, by turning that severance package into an opportunity to add to our investment portfolio, which helped shorten that two-year gap to about 18 months.