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How to Prepare Yourself for a Layoff

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Do you have a sinking feeling you’re about to be laid off? The thought of losing your job is scary, disheartening and disorienting. Add to that the profound stress and anxiety you experience when your future is unclear.

These hopeless, tear-your-hair-out feelings are real, and we won’t gloss over them. But we will offer you some guidance so you don’t feel left in the lurch. Test if your layoff prediction is accurate, and learn some practical steps on how to prepare for one. It won’t be easy, but with these tips, you can create a plan for seeing yourself through.

Look for signs of layoffs

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, layoffs and discharges rose from 1.6 million in April 2017 to 1.7 million in April 2018. Sometimes people miss the signs, and the shock of job loss pummels them like a torrential downpour. Other times, they think a layoff is coming when it’s not.

Layoff warning signs:

  • Your load gets increasingly lighter
  • You or your team no longer have a sense of company direction
  • Your company has cut spending or is no longer hiring
  • Sales have dropped
  • Communication from your supervisor decreases, and other higher-ups become less accessible
  • You notice more meetings taking place behind closed doors
  • Your workplace feels more tense


Stress-test your finances

If you think a layoff is imminent, take ample time to review your budget. Check how much money you’re currently spending in specific areas and where you could save more. Then crunch the numbers without your income. What’s the lowest amount you could live on and for how long? Some expenses like rent or mortgage are a constant, but can you get by without cable for a few months? Think about every penny you spend and restructure your budget to ease the financial pressure of unemployment.

Savings can often be found in unexpected places. If you no longer have a daily commute, you’ll save money on gas or bus fare, and being at home more will help temporarily with childcare costs. It will be tough but having a strategy will help you manage your budget and your stress, so you can focus on what matters most — getting back to work.

Prepare to negotiate severance

In the event that a layoff rears its ugly head, you may be able to negotiate some support with your employer. Review all the paperwork you received when you were hired. Does it say anything about your company’s severance policies? Also, some states require that you receive a payout of any accrued vacation time. Know what you’re entitled to receive.

Talk to HR about how long health insurance and other benefits will remain in effect after your employment ends, and see how they’ll describe your termination when new employers call. Ensure that your employer indicates “laid off” instead of “fired” in your file, too.

What is your boss willing to do to help you find a new job? Don’t be afraid to ask if your company will pay for outplacement services.

Finally, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance, which can help you stay afloat while you look for other work.

Take a deep breath (or 10)

Try not to panic about the possibility of a layoff. This may be a tall order, but avoid letting your emotions get the best of you. Try to stay present at work so you can finish out the job right for as long as you’ll get to stay. Quietly develop a plan for the worst so you can stay focused while you wade through the stress.

Now, more than ever, it’s important that you take care of yourself:

  • Take breaks at work – When you start drowning in emotions, take short, frequent breaks when you can — and that lunch break you normally put off when things get busy. Get some air. Grab a cup of calming herbal tea.
  • Eat well and exercise – How (often) we eat and move impacts our ability to tolerate stress, so eat foods that support your body and mind. Movement can help you get out of your head and physically work through emotions, so whether you go for a run or do yoga, move in the way that works best for you. (Don’t forget to breathe!)
  • Rest up – It’s easy to let the what-ifs dominate your mind, especially when you can’t sleep, but it doesn’t do you any good. Rest doesn’t just mean physical rest, like sleeping, though. What are some other self-care methods that bring you peace? Incorporate those as often as you can.
  • Stay positive – Acknowledge your mixed emotions, but don’t let hopelessness consume your thoughts, pervade your home life and impact your work. If a layoff is coming, is there a way to see this change as an opportunity?
  • Enjoy family and friends – Lean into the people who love you and will support you.

Prepare to find your next job — quickly

An impending layoff can be a great time to do some personal inventory of your career status and goals. If you’re thinking about working in another field or industry, start taking practical steps to widen your options.

Contract work can be a lifeline if you’re suddenly out of work, and it’s also a great way to explore career options. The hiring timeline is typically much shorter than for permanent roles, and employers are more likely to take a chance on hiring a less experienced candidate for a temporary role.

The thought of losing your job and hunting for a new one is daunting. But don’t let discouragement paralyze you. Find moments outside of work to search for new possibilities. Schedule out your time so it doesn’t feel as difficult to manage. Every second matters, especially when most U.S. employers are strapped for talent.