YOU’RE NOT POWERLESS IN THE FACE OF AN LAYOFF
SOURCE: Harvard Business Review
Authors: D. Lancefield and D. Clark
Picture Credit: Bill Varie
Reproduced here in its entirety for information purposes only.
U.S. unemployment is now the worst it’s been since the Great Depression, and globally, millions more have lost jobs — or worry they’re next in line to be cut in the face of a lingering downturn.
As leadership consultants, we’ve worked with senior and mid-level executives as they faced layoffs — themselves and their teams — during recessionary periods. (One of us, Dorie, has personal experience dealing with a layoff amidst the 9/11 economic crisis.) It’s never easy, but if you’re facing job loss, here are five strategies that should help you handle it gracefully so you can maintain your connections and reputation, and emerge stronger in the end.
Keep negative emotions in check.
It’s common to experience a range of emotions in the wake of a layoff — you may go through the full Kubler-Ross gamut of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s understandable to feel and express all of these — in private. But publicly, it’s especially important to guard against displays of anger, which can if unchecked, damage your long-term professional reputation. We all know that shooting off an irate email or social media post isn’t helpful (though that knowledge doesn’t stop some from indulging).
But it’s also important to restrain the urge to share your grievances with colleagues, whether they’ve been laid off, as well, or remain in the organization. Initially, it feels good to get comfort and support. But complaining not only reinforces an unhelpful spiral of negative thinking. It also raises the likelihood that others, including those who don’t know you personally, will hear about you for the first time in the context of your complaints.
At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll also want to avoid quiet passive-aggressiveness. One senior executive we know reacted badly to his layoff, vanishing without a trace. He failed to thank his assistant and team and left colleagues to pick up projects and client relationships without a handover. Now, it’s the only thing people talk about when they refer to him, seemingly forgetting his considerable achievements over a 10-year period. Instead, in the company of your colleagues, try to focus on the positive elements of your time at the company and your plans moving forward.
Identify the people in your professional network whom you want to tell personally.
These should be your most important contacts, such as mentors, former bosses, friends, customers, or suppliers — anyone with whom you have a close bond. Express your appreciation for the experiences you’ve enjoyed together, and the support they’ve given you — and if they’ve also been laid off recently, you can offer to make introductions or lend a sympathetic ear, as appropriate.
Sharing your news personally, whether via email or phone, demonstrates to them how much you value the relationship, and they’ll often reciprocate by sharing their ideas and counsel on what you might do next. Fully aware of your talents, if they still have a job and are in a position to hire, they may even view this as an opportunity to “scoop you up” now that you’re on the market (indeed, Dorie was hired, post-layoff, by a former supplier).
Develop a plan to hand over your work.
To ensure you leave on good terms, it’s important to develop a plan with your boss to pass along your work, knowledge, and customer relationships with other colleagues. Your goal is for your colleagues to have the best possible chance to succeed without you, and they’ll remember and appreciate your efforts as you exit. If the entire business is being shut down, you may also want to see if there are documents, templates, or frameworks you’ve created that you can take with you that may be useful in your future professional life (within the bounds of any IP or confidentiality agreements you’ve signed).
Write your goodbye email.
You’ll need to convey your departure to colleagues beyond the key contacts you’ve told personally. If you’re given a chance to write a goodbye email before you leave, you can send a note from your work address. (If this isn’t possible, it’s still a good idea to send a note from your personal account, so you don’t simply “vanish” after the layoff.)
This isn’t the place to recount your career highlights in detail, or give a commentary on the prospects for your organization or the broader economy. And don’t over-promise or showboat about what you’re doing next; if the layoff came as a surprise, it’s unlikely that you’ll know. Instead, emphasize what you’re proud of, and grateful for. Keep it brief, and leave your contact details. Here’s an example:
I’m leaving [organization name] at the end of [date], after [x] great years. I go with many happy memories, feeling privileged that I’ve worked with so many inspiring colleagues. I plan to explore opportunities in [xxx], building on my skills and experience in [xx]. Thank you for your support, encouragement, and warmth. I wish you all the best in the future. And I do hope I keep in touch with as many of you as possible — please see my contact details below.
One former colleague went above and beyond, writing personal hand-written letters to his closest colleagues, expressing his gratitude for what they had done for him.
Notify your broader network.
There will likely still be professional colleagues who haven’t heard the news about your layoff, especially if you weren’t able to send an email from your work account and didn’t have access to your full contact list. In order to lay the groundwork for your future job search, you can post on your social media accounts that you’ve left your company and are looking for new opportunities.
Keep your post short and positive, and — even if commenters are critical of your company or the layoff decision — don’t take the bait. You can write a modified version of your email to work colleagues, such as:
Today was my last day at [organization name], after [x] great years. I’ve been lucky to work with so many talented colleagues and clients, and plan to explore opportunities in [xxx] moving forward. If you have suggestions or leads, I would be appreciative!
You’ll likely receive an outpouring of support, and hopefully some useful connections. At a minimum, your network is now “on the lookout” for you.
In the wake of a layoff, you’ll want your colleagues to remember your generosity and integrity as you leave, since they are your advocates, support network, and sources of new job opportunities. By following these steps, you can make the most of a challenging situation and ensure you’ll have a cohort of allies who will be pleased to help you in the future.