The human side of layoffs

February 19, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
With the number of unemployed rising and huge layoffs happening all around us, to not take getting laid off personally is becoming increasingly challenging. Downsizing, layoffs, unemployment -- no matter how you say it -- if you suddenly find your self without a job, you're not alone and it can be psychologically devastating and emotionally draining. Rusty Rueff, co-author of "Talent Force: A New Manifesto for the Human Side of Business," shares some sound advice and tips to keep you on your feet and prepare for when things turn around.

If you just lost your job through one of the layoffs occurring around the world, you are not alone, even if it feels that way. If this is the first time you've ever lost a job or been asked to leave a company, a whole range of emotions are swirling or are about to swirl within you. While there are some that others can help address there are ones that will be left only up to you to get over. Regardless, it's important to remember that just because your company downsized, you are no less talented than you were before.

· Learn that your self-worth and your job are not the same. But, it sure feels that way doesn't it? Wherever we go people ask, "What do you do?" and the answer is always your job title and company. If you've recently lost a job - or about to - this is no longer an easy question to answer. The blank needs to be filled in and the sooner you can answer this question confidently and with self-assurance, the sooner you'll be on the way to feeling better about yourself and moving forward. Ideas for you on how to answer the question; "I used to be an ABC at company XYZ. Today, while looking for my next job, I also (fill in the blank with those things that are important and valuable to you like spending time doing something important with your family, volunteering, giving back, etc). Just creating this new language and definition of "you" will be a boost to your ego and self-worth.

· Force yourself to be active. Do you remember that sick day when you thought 'what a great day to read that book' you always wanted to read, yet when you opened it you felt too cruddy to actually read? The same kind of malaise can creep in when you go from 40-60 hours a week or work to a dead stop. While we may initially think we'll be full of energy and time to do all the things we ever wanted to do, we soon may find we just don't feel like it. So, sometimes you'll have to force yourself to be active. A great way to do this is to go find a charitable organization that needs your time and energy and get involved in a project that forces you out of the house and with other people for 10 hours a week or more. This is the perfect time to do good with the time you have. Charities, churches and schools are all hurting during this tough time and they could use your help and they will value you for what you bring to them.

· Work on your story. What most of us never take the time to do is create the short, to the point story of who we are, how we got here, why we do what we do, what we care about, where we want to go, and what we dream of doing. Your story is yours. It is different and unique. When we are asked to describe ourselves, we often fumble around and we never seem to cover the unique in each of us that would be memorable to the person who has asked. Now is the time to sit and come to your own story. Start with what makes you unique and different and then build from there. Write it down and then practice telling your story over and over to those who care about you and others who you know are also looking for the next thing. In return, let them practice their story on you and give them your honest feedback. The old adage is true, "those who teach learn twice". If you can come to a less than five-minute full story of you then you can be confident in knowing that "everyone likes a story". The better the storyteller you are about yourself, the better others will listen and the better you will feel prepared for any question that comes up.

Yes, you need to be doing the fundamentals that you know about already. Some of these tips Glassdoor outlined recently. But, you also need to be out there connecting and networking, but if you just don't feel up to it yet, or you feel lost within yourself, work on the three important things above to move yourself forward. Trust me, you will find your groove again. It will take time just as all hard things in life do, but before long you will feel more confident to hit the ground running and find the "you" that makes you who you are. You are not alone and I hope you remember - -no matter what - you are talented!

In addition:

· Seek advice on company's "general release" before signing.

· Request salary continuation versus a lump sum severance payment. Severance usually represents the equivalent salary for a period of time. (for example, six weeks or six months) Companies often disperse this as a lump sum payment because there are accounting benefits but companies may consider keeping the employee on the books, which can be helpful to get financial aspects, such as a home refi or other credit activity that requires employment.

· Request benefits through equivalent termination date to delay COBRA. Regardless whether an employee is successful in extending employment and/or timed payments, employees should ask that health and dental benefits be extended through the effective date of termination. For example, if someone receives 3 months severance, they should request benefits be continued for at least 3 months. This helps to reduce out-of-pocket costs and delays COBRA from starting the 18-month clock.

· Try to maintain "active" employment status in company's system until separation pay and/or period stops. This helps make sure that anyone verifying employment gets a "yes they are employed here" answer. Similarly, they should request "rehire" status be "yes" when finally terminated. Since you never know who might ask and who might be answering, this helps ensure it's noted the company would rehire you at a later date.

· Request continued access to on-site services and benefits, such as company gym to preserve lifestyle and health (and keep expenses down)

· Request to be considered for project work in exchange for extending separation period. Offer to come in and help out as needed. It can keep you busy and add compensation to your bank account.

· Put a personal financial plan together - What are non-negotiable expenses? What expenses could be negotiated - like rent, finance charges? What will you stop spending money on?

About Rusty Rueff:
Rusty Rueff is's career expert. He previously ran global HR departments at EA and Pepsico and co-authored Talent Force: A New Manifesto for the Human Side of Business, (Prentice-Hall. 2006) He also served as CEO of SNOCAP until its acquisition by imeem in April 2008. is a career and workplace community where anyone can find and share compensation details and company reviews and ratings, including CEO approval ratings.