How to Navigate Your Layoff Gracefully

How to Navigate Your Layoff. Gracefully.

Being told you are part of a layoff is the last thing you want to hear.

I’ve had some practice at navigating the emotional waters of not being needed.  I’ve been laid off by an enterprise that was compassionate, helpful, and provided services and a severance for a soft landing.  In contrast, as a freelance marketing strategist, I’ve also been abruptly told to stop working immediately because the project is being cut short.

I chose the world where the reality of project cuts is a constant so I’ve developed thicker skin to avoid feeling crushed when my brain translates the message delivered to sound suspiciously like my work isn’t good enough or that I didn’t bring value.  Let’s face it – it hurts when an organization tells you they don’t need you.

In that moment, it would be easy and understandable to react in ways you might later regret.  Whether you’ve never been through this, you have a hunch you may soon go through this, or this isn’t your first rodeo, here are a few tips to help you navigate the ugly waters of a layoff.

Go easy on the person charged with delivering the news

This is a tough ask and if you’ve already blown this one, don’t let that epitomize how you handle the rest of the process.  Although it feels justified, tears, anger, yelling, pleading, or any kind of outburst are not going to help.  The decision has been made and in a lot of cases, it isn’t made by the person who delivers the news.

Try to manage the immediate next steps well because even though the decision to stay employed was taken out of your control, what you do next IS in your control and helps to define you and the impression you leave.

To muster up the strength I’ve needed in those moments of shock, I’ve found it helpful to focus on the practicalities of the situation:

  • Ask if this is effective immediately or if you’ll be staying for a period of time to transition your duties?
  • Find out if you’re being offered a severance package and its terms?
  • Check if there are career placement services and how long they’ll be offered?

By the time these questions have been answered, you have without even realizing it, started to cope.

Ask for a reference

If you’ve kept your cool while being told that your job is going away, you’re in a good spot to politely request a reference if one hasn’t already been offered.  If the initial meeting didn’t go well, asking for a reference is an opportunity to smooth that over.

Most people delivering the news understand that you were in shock and a sincere apology goes a long way to mending that bridge.  Explain that you’d like to put that incident behind you and leave on good terms and ideally with a reference.  Most organizations are willing to help and have no intention of holding you back from your next chapter.

Offer your assistance

Whether you’re leaving that day or working an agreed notice, offer to be a resource.  While the offer may never be acted upon, the fact that you were professional won’t be forgotten.  If this is a layoff with a request to remain until a future date, this is the time to do more not less – counter-intuitive, I know!

It won’t get you your job back but in the midst of an admittedly awkward situation, you can stand out as someone who can hate the situation without having to take it out on everyone around them.

Ironically, helping your organization transition your role can also be therapeutic.  I did this and was reminded of how much I knew, which is useful as you market yourself to other companies.  You also focus on what you’re good at which can help you direct your career search for the next chapter.

Being an advisor of sorts as your last duty also helps with the bereavement process of losing a job.  You have time to get used to the idea and emotionally adjust to your new circumstances while you’re still being compensated.  It’s not perfect but if you can handle it, it isn’t the worst possible scenario either.

Moderate your social media posts

Venting on your favorite social media platforms is tempting and they’ll be plenty of support in bad mouthing the organization that did this to you, especially if you’re not the only one affected.  Unfortunately, whatever you share is also available to your current organization and future employers.

Rather than focusing your network on the bad news, mobilize them to help you with your next move.  Following her unexpected layoff, a friend posted this:

I am actively seeking a <insert 3-4 words describing role> opportunity. I have a long record of success and solid recommendations. If you know of any job leads please contact me. Thank you in advance for your assistance and support.

Great marketing!  Short, positive, demonstrates professionalism and issues a call-to-action.  She’s announced to her network that she’s in the market for a new job and she clearly isn’t looking back, she’s looking forward.

Leave gracefully

Slamming the door felt so satisfying when we were teenagers but those days have gone and so has shouting, throwing, destroying, and any other deliberately aggressive behaviors.  The long goodbye is similarly on par because it makes everyone feel uncomfortable and prolongs the inevitable.

Shake the hands of one or two key people, wish them well, thank them for their good wishes and leave.  It sets a tone for those around you and whether they choose to follow your example or not, you’ll be remembered positively by your actions.

Navigating a layoff isn’t easy but knowing you conducted yourself with professionalism and integrity will help you to start your next chapter with poise, dignity, and without regrets.  I survived and you will too!

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