Leaving you is sometimes easy

Believe it or not, layoffs are not always a bad thing.

Granted, there’s the gut-churning worry about making the mortgage and all the other payments, and that’s as real as it gets, especially if you, like me,  have been living paycheque to paycheque and not setting anything aside for the bad times. That is unequivocally double-plus-ungood.

But for your head and your heart and even your career, a layoff or buyout can be breathing space, a time to sit back and consider just what it is that you really want to do with the next five years — or the rest — of your life, and maybe take some tentative steps toward that thing.

I was talking the other day with a woman whose company seems to be moving toward layoffs and she’s pretty sure that if they come, they’ll come for her. And she’s fighting the feeling of relief that this is bringing. She feels like she’s been swimming in a toxic muck for years. Asked why she hasn’t just up and left before now, she admitted that her current workplace has drained whatever self-esteem she might have once had — she’s not confident enough to go out and sell herself on the job market.

Boy, did I understand where she was coming from. I spent the best part of my career working for a company whose mission I believed in — still do. It was the only place I wanted to work when I graduated from university. And many of the people I worked with were wonderful. But it was an extraordinarily toxic workplace for me because while I was frequently seconded to work at a higher level, my bosses made it clear over and over again that I lacked that certain je ne sais quoi to actually get promoted to that level permanently. I was of far more value to them as a pawn on the board that could move anywhere. Not only did I come to lack confidence in my skills, the lack of a saleable job title on my CV was evidence of my employer’s lack of confidence in me, so even when I applied for jobs I got hit by the double whammy. I did eventually get out and move on, but my lack of progress there remains my secret shame. I still can’t explain it, and that doubt remains at the back of my mind.

It’s really hard to believe in yourself when others don’t believe in you.  And even harder to just quit a sure paycheque, as harmful as it might be to earn it, on principle when you’ve got no safety net. So no judgment, please, about this woman’s failure to get out of the poison pool.

But she is taking steps, and that’s a positive thing. She’s getting therapy for her self-esteem issues. She’s getting her ducks in a row so that she’ll be ready when the layoff comes. And she’s trying not to be too overtly relieved about the idea about getting paid to leave her job. I told her to stop fighting it and embrace it as a natural result of the way she’s been feeling about her job. Because sometimes a layoff is freedom. You no longer have to work with the people who were making your life miserable. You leave with severance pay so your immediate concerns about paying the bills are assuaged, giving you time and space to think about your next move — which might be completely different from your last one.

Here are some ways to prepare yourself for a layoff:

  1. Use your benefits. If you need new glasses, get them. See your dentist. Buy your prescription meds. Get the massages that you never get. Take advantage of all of it — you’ve been paying for it, there’s no sense leaving money on the table. And if your company has an Employee Assistance Program that provides a certain amount of free counselling, use it. It’s confidential, won’t come back to haunt you at this workplace or the next, and could be the key to getting out of whatever rut you’ve been in.
  2. Put together a list of contacts, complete with contact details. People who’ve been helpful to you or to whom you’ve provided good service.
  3. Set up a non-work email address and use the first email to send yourself that list of contacts. Also make sure that you have copies of — or access to — any work product that you’re particularly proud of — papers or reports or whatever. Your personnel assessments. If you’ve received emails telling you what a great job you did or thanking you for going above and beyond on something, make sure you have copies of those too. You’ll want to be able to show this stuff to your next employer, plus it’s always good to look back on the work you’ve done and say to yourself, “Damn, I’m good!”
  4. We all know we’re supposed to put aside money to keep us going for a few months, but few of us actually do it, mostly because there’s always something to spend the money on, like gas for the car or a new roof. It’s hard to plan for an uncertain future when the very certain present has its hands in our pockets. But if you know something’s coming, start cutting back where you can, and pay off what debts you can. Start getting used to reduced circumstances.
  5. Sometimes you can see layoffs coming from miles away. If so, look at your resume and check for holes. Is there a course you can take — online or in person — that will fill that hole, either by upgrading existing skills or adding an in-demand skill? Your current employer may have a budget to pay for continued learning, but be careful — if the training isn’t directly applicable to your current job they may not pay for it.

Laid Off? 10 Tips For Suddenly Unemployed Journalists – Recovering Journalist

This is a good article — I’ve said most of these things at one time or another myself, and am patting myself on the back for my smarts — but the really interesting thing about this are the comments, especially the last one, from a journalist who was near retirement age when she was laid off. She became a security guard to supplement her severance/unemployment/pension and says it woke her up to what she should be doing, and all in all the lesson she learned is “you are not what you do.” That was a good one.


Laid Off? 10 Tips For Suddenly Unemployed Journalists – Recovering Journalist.

What to do if you’re laid off in 2008 recession — Scobleizer

This article was written four years ago but the economic times don’t seem to have changed much — and the advice still stands for anyone laid off now. I followed most of these tips and people keep telling me I got a job quickly — though it really didn’t seem like that to me at the time!

What to do if you’re laid off in 2008 recession — Scobleizer.

Happy Canada Day!

On Sunday, July 1, Canada turns 145. There will be picnics and barbecues and fireworks and much jollity will ensue over the course of a long weekend.

You measure time differently when you’re unemployed — an hour is still an hour, sure, but a day isn’t necessarily the same length, and a holiday weekend is a different animal altogether.  When you’re working, you try to cram as many things as possible into the three- or four-day stretch, have the prescribed amount of fun while — if you’re me — also trying to spend as much time just relaxing as humanly possible before you have to return to work.

I don’t know what I’m going to do this weekend. I had hoped to be able to go to Nova Scotia for a short visit, but I finally admitted to myself yesterday that it’s not going to happen, which is contributing to my increasingly foul mood. My grandmother was born on July 1 and my family has a tradition of gathering for birthday celebrations that it carried on even after she died. It would have been nice to see the extended family, and to take a little trip up to Cape Breton to see friends at the tip of the beautiful Bras d’Or Lakes, before heading back to Halifax, the Annapolis Valley and the Baie Sainte-Marie

Cape Blomidon from the 101. Taken from website http://www.panoramio.com/photo/13094849 and credited to photographer Lucybear

to spend time with other friends and family. There’s something about being with people who love you and want the best for you — and who’ve known you for decades and therefore have a better idea than you do yourself what you need — that soothes the soul and feeds the spirit, and I could use some of both.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen about coping with layoffs is to not isolate yourself — professionally or socially. That’s my go-to tendency — all the Myers-Briggs testing puts me firmly in the “introvert” corner, and as a general rule I’m far too happy with my own company. I have to work against my nature at the best of times. My neighbours have been good for getting me out of my bolthole. But on holiday weekends people tend to scatter to the winds — even on the Internet, the things that have been entertaining me will be less active because of the weekend — so I’m actually going to have to make an effort to get out and talk to people. I’m invited to a barbecue on Sunday, and from the sound of the forecast, tomorrow will be a good afternoon to sit in a dark, air-conditioned theatre watching the new Matthew McConaughey movie, which a friend has promised to come see with me. After that, I think Monday may take care of itself.