Talking About Layoffs

[ reflection  ]

We don’t really talk about layoffs. When you hear someone say they got laid off, it’s likely the next thing you hear from them is about the new job they’re starting. But we don’t talk about what it’s like in between those two events - which means we’re not acknowledging how traumatic it is to be laid off.

Being laid off is an emotionally shocking experience. It’s unexpected. It’s jarring. It throws everything off-kilter. And because we don’t talk about it, it can feel like you’re the only one having that reaction.

Please know that you’re not alone in feeling that way. I feel that way. It feels awful. And I want to talk about it here - partly just to get some of these thoughts out of my head, but also to help other people going through it feel less alone.

I’m realizing that one of the hard things about being laid off is the lack of closure. There are questions and decisions and interactions that will remain unanswered, unknown, unfinished - and I have to eventually accept that.

Lack of closure around the layoff decisions. People I know and worked with made decisions about who got laid off and who got to stay - and I’ll never know why I got put in the layoff pile. Why me? Why did this person or that person get laid off, and these other people get to stay? My brain circles this question around and around, looking for something to make sense, for there to be a reason. And there really just isn’t any way for me to know.

Lack of closure around the events that led to layoffs. How did leadership handle the business in such a way that layoffs were the only way forward? What was the business plan? Why didn’t it work? What else was done, or could have been done, to prevent layoffs? I don’t know, and I don’t have a way to ask questions like this anymore.

Lack of closure around how the company implemented their layoff plan. Communication around the layoffs was not done well, which also adds another level of emotional distress. I was on vacation, so I didn’t get the email or attend the “quick all-hands meeting” where it was announced. I found out there were layoffs when someone posted a pre-emptive goodbye in Slack in case they lost access after their official notification meeting. I found out that I was laid off when someone DMed me on LinkedIn to ask if I was okay because they saw that my Slack account had been deactivated. I spent hours trying to get someone in my leadership chain to talk with me. It feels awful that my last interaction with the company had this carelessness and lack of empathy.

Lack of closure in your relationships with the people you worked with. Some people reach out, and some people don’t. Some folks I didn’t expect to hear from DMed me to offer support, and it felt really nice to receive that unexpected kindness. But being laid off means I didn’t get to say goodbye to all of the people I enjoyed working with.

Lack of closure around the people you manage. I care about them as employees and as humans, and I was invested in their growth and success - it feels hard not to be a part of that anymore. We had goals that we were working on together, coaching personal or professional growth, and now they’ll have to start over with someone new. It feels bad to have those relationships and work ripped away.

Lack of closure from the projects you were working on. Will someone else pick up that work, or will it just die on the vine? I put effort and care into things that are no longer for me, and I didn’t have a chance to hand it off, or explain why it was important, or do anything to ensure it’s continued success.

And while all of this emotional wrench is happening, I have to pull it together enough to look for a new job. I have to stay organized and keep moving forward - track down leads, follow up on emails, prep for interviews, participate in interviews.

I’m navigating the unemployment system - something that is supposed to help, but is set up in such a confusing and convoluted way that it adds an immense amount of stress.

But we don’t talk about any of this stuff. I felt like I was just struggling with this thing that other people have dealt with, and that I should be able to just… move on. Get on with it. Be productive, find a new job.

It was such a relief when someone said to me that being laid off was a traumatic experience - it wasn’t just me feeling like this, it was me having a valid emotional reaction to a traumatic experience. It was me feeling the same way that many people feel in the same situation.

So I’m saying it to you, in case you have been laid off and you’re wondering why it’s so much harder for you than it seems to be for other people:

Being laid off is a traumatic experience. You’re not alone in being laid off. You’re not alone in feeling sad, anxious, angry, disappointed, depressed, stressed.

Give yourself space to process. Give yourself time to recover. Vent if you need to. Try not to schadenfreude too much. Remember that progress is not linear - you’ll have days where you feel fine, and days where it hits you again and you just want to stay in bed and pull the covers up. Give yourself kindness. You deserve kindness.


Written on June 12, 2022