Being Laid Off – Disaster or Opportunity?

The long-feared invitation to be called in by your boss has become a reality. Your mouth is so dry, it seems as if you'll never be able to swallow again. The sound of the words coming out of your mouth is coarse as sand. The layoff rumors closing in on you and the guessing matches about who will and who won't be fired are coming to an end. You are on the list. Your job, your work, the place you had always thought you'd hold on to until retirement, is pulled from right under your feet. You have just joined a club no one wants to belong to – the unemployed club.

How do you react? This depends on your character, your reaction mechanism patterns, and what it means for you to belong to that 'club'. Your reaction will determine how fast you bounce back.

What are some of the common reactions?


A significant number of laid-off people view being fired as demeaning. The shameful behavior can be reflected in many ways, starting with lowering your eyes when asked about your work, continued with not collecting unemployment allowance, and ending with hiding the actual fact of being laid-off from everyone, including your own family.

Shame is damaging. In most lay-offs, the employee has minimal effect on the termination of work. Collecting unemployment allowance in no way means you are going on welfare. Unemployment allowance is an insurance you actually paid for throughout your working years, and you are about to receive a very small portion of it to get by during temporary unemployment. The shame and hiding are destructive. They cost a great amount of energy, preventing you from turning that very same energy towards seeking a new employment solution.


This is a complete opposite of shame. "I have been working so hard, I was the center pillar of the team, wooed and sought-after by competing companies. I am receiving endless messages of support and wonder from colleagues”: “You? They must be insane to let you go.” “As soon as the word gets out I'll find a job in no time.” But then, being too sure of yourself, you turn down job offers you feel are beneath you: “I've done this ten years ago, I am being offered an insulting salary, their technology is dated, they want me to manage three people only, I'll wait for a suitable offer.”

Euphoria in low dosage – providing you are well aware of your situation – is not necessarily bad. A bit of euphoria and nurturing one's ego, helps cope. The facts are accurate: you have been the center pillar of the team, you actually were appreciated and your team mates' reaction is sincere. However, a prolonged sense of euphoria, causing you to reject job offers on the spot just because they don't correspond with your exact expectations, is damaging, and falling down can be incredibly painful.


Now, there is a common reaction: "I am reaching forty, fifty, sixty…It's a well-known fact that this is a young professionals market. I have a mortgage, a family, responsibilities, what is going to happen? True, I may be an experienced program engineer, but I will not find a job at my age. What can I do? Maybe I'll open a small business that will guard me from running after a job I'll never be hired for. Better be my own boss than go through lay-offs again.”

Panic, much like shame, is a destructive reaction. "It's well known that…" is a destructive thought, because the success of finding the right job is a mutual team effort of recruiter and candidate. You have acquired experience, your skills have not been lost, but panic conceals them. Recruiters will respond to your demeanor and to what you project and might see a "has been" who is way over the hill and has nothing to contribute. The private business may prove to be a deceiving notion. You are about to let go of the experience and knowledge you've acquired over the years, and open a business while you have no managerial or financial skills, nor any understanding of what running a business entails.


Blaming others is the damaging of all reaction patterns. You blame the organization that failed to appreciate your loyalty. You blame your manager who didn't protect you. You blame HR for doing nothing for the employees, society for preferring the young while discarding experience, and so on.

Blame is lethal. It means you learned little from experience and you chose to point fingers at others while taking no responsibility upon yourself.  At this precious time, when you need all of your faculties working full speed ahead at finding a new job, blaming others is a major waste of energy.

So what is an effective reaction to being laid-off?

Coping well and effectively with any crisis (such as lay-offs), justifies some space for anger, fear and shame, provided these feelings do not take over. Effective coping means trying to find, deep within you, strengths you have not had to use for a long time, much like finding forgotten muscles while starting to work-out again.

Most importantly – do not submit to low self-esteem and insecurity. Learning well-designed methods of job searching and optimal self-presentation, getting professional help and focusing on networking options, are all key for finding new work.

Managing crisis calls for doing things that make you feel good, alongside with seeking work (remember hiking? Reading? Volunteering?). Look at it as means to a goal, which is – finding that new job as healthy, energetic as vigorous as you need to be, to start over.  

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