Getting Laid Off From Your Job Isn't The End Of Your World: An Open Letter
Even in uncertain and often, swift, changes—there is an odd hope that emerges.
One year ago, this month, I was laid off from a tech job. It's not a story untold, but as a creative living, thriving, and sustaining oneself in the Bay Area—rent prices speak higher than happiness. Lets dive in.
Firstly, I hold no ill-will towards the ones who laid me off. As a founder and CEO myself, those are tough calls and it will always negatively affect those who you've grown to know. Just shy of one year at a Silicon Valley start-up, it was a blindsided whirlwind that, in my head, was the only one affected by. I later come to learn that friends, colleagues, and many others from various teams were packing up shop and heading out. How do I process losing stable income, losing reliable healthcare, in ways, lose friendships? I couldn't entirely process it.
My career trajectory was always based on freelancing for various brands, companies, and firms to their needs—my full-time, salary job felt like a glorified perma-lancer position. After a year of thinking about "how I would pay my rent, support myself, feed myself," I realized a year had passed. I made laid-off life work. Constantly stressing about funds turned into constant hustling. How was this? I bounced from job to job and built a network of freelance clients that respected my time and hired me back time after time again.
But for those who are not in the creative field, who rely on stability of workforce America, being laid off can cause a major emotional impact. So much so that Harvard University has a page dedicated to layoff support—this covers emotional, physical, and spiritual—it goes in.
"Being laid off can be an overwhelming and stressful experience of loss and change," Harvard's page reads, "for some people, a layoff could be a welcome relief from a difficult job situation or looked at as potential for moving on in their life. But for others a job loss can have a significant emotional impact. While people deal with change and stress in many different ways, the following is a short list of possible emotional, psychological and physical responses that one may experience." The list goes on to show what symptoms you could be facing in this time of grief.
From an emotional standpoint, you could start to feel:
Loss of enjoyment or appreciation
Feelings of worthlessness
Loss of self esteem
The biggest concept the Harvard staff recommend is reaching out, facing shame head on. "Accepting help and support from people who care about you and will listen to you can help a lot," they explain, "keeping secrets is very stressful and for most people having support and empathy is very helpful in moving through this emotional time." Being laid-off (not based on performance or reason) is also a time of self-healing, "do something everyday that helps you feel good. This is a time to be compassionate with yourself."
A gal who was laid off from the same job as I (who will remain anonymous) shares the same sentiment, "I got laid off a year ago today. A lot has happened since then, and one of the biggest things I've learned about myself is how much joy I get from co-workers and the genuine bonds that can form when you're joined together in the fine art of pushing buttons and staring at glowing rectangles together for many, many hours a week," she goes onto to explain how this impacted her. "I had no idea how much socialization I got from work until it was taken away. Not every job is like that. Some places are super quiet and focused more on the work you produce vs who you are as a person. Freelancing can be isolating. Sometimes I walk down the street and see people on smoke breaks swapping stories about some horrible thing a co-worker said. Hey, I've been there, and I don't miss that aspect of it one bit. I guess I just miss the humans."
Being laid off is hard enough in terms of the economic and emotional consequences without the added weight of secretly feeling: I deserved this.
James Laurence, a sociologist and research fellow at the University of Manchester, found that individuals who experienced a layoff were 4.5 percent less likely to trust [the business or company in question] even 17 years later. This effect was even stronger for individuals who placed a greater value on work and career, at 7 percent. "One of the striking findings of the research was that how being laid off affected someone's social trust seemed highly dependent on their level of 'work-centrality,'" says Laurence.
But as someone who works in creative, I'm prone to move around company to company. Those who got their degrees in engineering, accounting, numbers, etc and so on—there is a trust that person has to place in a companies values and morales. But given that layoffs are sometimes unavoidable, why place so much trust in one's employer? Laurence explains that trust is important in the workplace and society overall because it's proven to have good outcomes. "There's lots of good work showing that teams of employees who trust one another and the company they work for, who have higher morale, and greater job security, are more productive, creative, and efficient. In other words, there is a big onus on companies to cultivate trust with their employees."
The people we develop friendships with share in the comradery. Those who share in the anger, frustration, happiness, and so on. It's saddening to lose connections of that sort. To, in an essence, lose friends.
"We'll keep in touch," followed by, "coffee every Sunday." You learn to be a perma-lancer in people's lives. A friend of convienence.
Beyond the workplace, societies with higher levels of trust see lower levels of corruption and better individual well-being, Laurence notes. To maintain trust, Laurence stresses that how a job ends matters quite a lot. Research has shown that voluntary redundancy—whereby companies going through downsizing ask their employees to resign—is less harmful psychologically than being laid off, and Laurence suggests that companies may consider these options to reduce the pain.
And when weeks turned to months turned to a full year, I realized that I had forlorn the guilt and made piece with my ability to work. Overcoming the shame of being blindsided wasn't easy—how I broke down in tears when I thought my hard work had, indeed, paid off. But, in hindsight, it was the next step of a new beginning and to those who are currently going through this: do your best not to take it personally. It will pass. I have no magic solution that helps overnight, it's near impossible to promise that—but we can create dialogue around this separation and shed light on historically closeted ideations.
// Photography by Fujio Emura, art by Anthony Rogers. Have something to say about this essay? Email us here!