Layoffs Suck! How Do I Manage?

The news traveled quickly from the east coast to my little office on the west coast, that an entire division at our company was being completely eliminated. And not only were all of those employees being laid off, but layoffs were happening in some of the other offices.

No surprise to me then when later that afternoon I look out my office window and I see one of our HR reps all the way from Florida and one of our most senior leaders out of the Midwest, walking into our building. A few minutes later, they’re sitting in my office across the table from me.

“Colleen, with the change in focus of our company, your position is being eliminated. You can apply for another job through our internal system, but your job no longer exists.” 

That’s about as much information and as much emotion as I received in that moment!

I first asked what was happening to my team, and then my second question may sound a little silly, but I’d never experienced layoffs in any capacity. So I wanted to understand, “When you say my job is eliminated, is it right this moment? Or can I still come in and wrap things up over the next day, or five days? What does that look like?”

I showed up that next day to be there for my team, for my company, for my clients. And not too long after I came into the office, that senior leader was still there.

She looked at me and said, “Oh! I’m surprised to see you here.”

If you are going through layoffs, whether you are on the receiving end like I was, you’re the leader having to deliver the news, or you’re simply a peer watching others go through this process, I want to offer to you some thoughts, some suggestions, some ways that maybe you can help improve what is a really crappy situation.

If I were the leader, I would have probably seen that employee the next day and asked, “How are you doing? Do you have any other questions? How can I support you?”

As leaders, we need to lead with humanity – to remember that the person we’re speaking to, at the end of it all, is a human being with real emotions.

So as a leader, if you are the one having to lay off employees, I’m not asking you to be ultra-vulnerable and wear all of your emotions on your sleeve, but rather be there to ask how you can offer help, answer the questions they have, and realize that they are processing all of these thoughts and emotions over something that was most likely unexpected. So be a leader who leads with humanity.  

Now if you’re on the receiving end like I was, hey, go nuts. Have that freak out moment; that’s what I did. But I’ve talked about this before, you have to have an expiration date on that. Freak out for 24-48 hours. I was feverishly texting people on my way out of the building, “I just lost my job, do you know of anything?” But within 48 hours, shift that perspective and look at it as an opportunity. What are the opportunities that are now in front of you, or maybe were in front of you but you weren’t willing or couldn’t take the chance to go after those? What are the new opportunities that this layoff has now provided to you?  

And then finally, if you’re on the sidelines, if you’re watching your peers go through this, offer support. Reach out, check in with them, ask how they’re doing, how maybe you could connect them – especially if you’ve gone through a layoff or you know somebody else, just to be able to shorten the learning curve for them, and just be there for support. I’m also here to support you.

If you have questions, whether it’s from leadership, the receiving end, or from the peer side, please leave those in the comments below, or you can message me directly. So many people are experiencing this right now, and I want to make sure that from all aspects, we are here to make the best possible situation that we can. 

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