HR Careers

RfH Insights: 4 Steps to Find Your Footing After Being Laid Off

April 21, 2023
November 7, 2023
Amanda Jackson
Lattice Team

Finding yourself unexpectedly out of work can bring a wide range of emotions. Whether you’re feeling frustration, anger, disappointment, or even excitement following a layoff, you’re not alone. Yet knowing that you need to pay bills and earn income could send you diving headfirst into applying for roles before spending the time to take stock and consider what’s next.

Stephanie Anderson, talent development specialist at The Lane Construction Corporation, and Mollie West Duffy, head of learning and development at Lattice, joined the Lattice Resources for Humans (RfH) community for an interactive session on how individuals can find their footing after experiencing a layoff.

1. Acknowledge your feelings.

In the wake of a layoff, negative emotions are perfectly normal. You may feel tempted to ignore or even numb those emotions, whether through “doom scrolling” on social media, binge-watching TV, or online shopping. 

But these ways of coping won’t help you move through the emotions. “To get to the other side of the feeling — if it’s a big feeling like anxiety or fear — you have to actually acknowledge that it’s happening and allow yourself to feel that,” said Anderson. “Then you can start getting some forward momentum.”

The principle of emotional granularity can be helpful when working to accept and feel your emotions. Consider the broader feeling you’re experiencing, and work to make it more specific. If the feeling you’re experiencing is disappointment, ask yourself: “Why am I feeling disappointed? Is it because I haven’t gained traction when applying for new jobs or because I feel unproductive?” 

Pinpointing specific emotions — and the reasons for them — makes moving through the feelings easier. 

Once you’ve identified your emotions, take steps to process them in healthy ways. Here are a few examples: 

  • Practice self-care. This can look different for everyone, but self-care could be going on a walk, taking a few deep breaths, or simply making sure you eat lunch.
  • Exercise. You don’t have to work out for a long time to reap the benefits of exercise when you’re processing emotions. Start with just 10 minutes of movement.
  • Journal. Writing down your feelings can expand your self-awareness and help you work through your emotions rather than holding them in.
  • Talk to someone supportive. Whether you talk to a therapist or a trusted friend, speaking with someone can be an important way to let your feelings out.
When something happens that we weren’t expecting or that we didn’t have control over, it feels like [we’ve] lost control over everything.

2. Control what you can control.

After an unexpected layoff, your to-do list may seem never-ending. You’re likely thinking about applying for unemployment and COBRA, looking for your next role, and ensuring that you can pay your bills.

On top of that, you might sense a loss of control. “When something happens that we weren’t expecting or that we didn’t have control over, it feels like [we’ve] lost control over everything,” Anderson said. “And that can feel very overwhelming.”

Rather than freezing in place, start finding small ways to gain back agency by controlling the things that are within your power. Consider breaking down large, overwhelming tasks into smaller steps you can accomplish day by day, one at a time. 

For instance, applying for COBRA might feel too overwhelming to accomplish on your first day after the layoff. Instead, begin by gathering any information you’re missing (such as when your benefits will end and any resources available to you), and make that your main task for the day. Maybe the next day, you’ll tackle applying for unemployment, and you’ll complete one section of the COBRA application the day after. 

As you move through each step, you’ll build momentum and a sense of productivity.

Instead of burning out by trying to do everything at once, control one thing at a time, and feel proud of what you’ve accomplished as you go.

Rather than trying to fit yourself into job descriptions you find, start by understanding where you excel and chase those opportunities.

3. Lean into the power of the pause.

The urgency of sudden job loss can be scary when you know you need income to pay your bills and care for yourself and your family. As a result, many people begin applying for jobs within a week — or even a day or two — of learning about the loss of employment. 

Yes, you’ll need to find a position to ensure your needs are met. But a layoff can provide an opportunity for you to dream about what your career path could look like next and pursue something new.

Before bulk-applying for similar jobs to your last one, take a few minutes to pause and assess. Say to yourself, “I’ve been in this job for x years and this industry for y years. Is this still where I want to be?” Have an honest conversation with yourself to decide whether you want to stay on the same career path or pivot to a new one. 

Are you curious about another industry, or do you have a dream job you’ve thought about for quite some time? Explore the steps you might take to move in that direction instead. 

You may be ready to take the leap and start your own business. Or perhaps you simply need to set aside a few minutes a day during your job search to refine a version of your resume that suits a potential pivot and apply for your dream job.

4. Carefully consider what’s next.

Before you look for your next position and apply for roles, think about what you want and need to find the best possible fit. 

Anderson created a workbook to walk job searchers through exercises designed to assess what they’re good at, what role types are best for them, and what they shouldn’t pursue. For example, start by identifying:

  • Your strengths and interests. Rather than trying to fit yourself into job descriptions you find, start by understanding where you excel and chase those opportunities.
  • Your challenges and disinterests. Knowing what you don’t enjoy is also critical so you can avoid finding yourself in a role for which you’re a poor fit. 
  • Your ideal environment. Take stock of whether you prefer the process-driven corporate world or the fast-paced startup world to find the best fit.
  • Your non-negotiables. No job is perfect. But identifying the two or three must-have traits of your next position can help you narrow your search and find a role you’re eager to fill. 

Layoffs come with a range of emotions, including anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear. One piece of advice resonated loud and clear in Anderson and West Duffy’s session: Remember that you’re not alone in this. By following these tips, you can start to find your footing and move forward with your career.

For more HR insights, join Resources for Humans, our 19,000+ person Slack community of people leaders, for helpful ideas, resources, and best practices.