Losing a job as the result of restructuring is a terrible experience and the stress people feel as a result can be debilitating. Often, employees are aware a round of layoffs is coming months in advance and are anxious about the outcome.
Emotions run high and the uncertainty can leave professionals feeling as though they’re standing on a fault-line that could give at any moment. While the difficulties job loss presents and the strong emotions it elicits are understandable, there is one response that I see in people who have lost their jobs as part of a layoff that I would like to eliminate: shame.
As someone who’s been through a reorg (more than once) and routinely works with organizations and individuals going through corporate change and restructures, here’s what professionals who have been laid off should know.
They are not alone
Not by a long shot. Have a look at LinkedIn, pick up a newspaper; companies are constantly laying employees off, and there are many reasons for rampant restructures including duplication of roles caused by mergers and acquisitions, technological advances that require a shift in employee skill sets, economic factors that force companies to downsize and corporate responsibility to shareholders. Most people in the private sector will, at one point in their career, experience restructuring in their business, possibly more than once. They may not lose their job, but they will know good people who are exited from the business.
It’s not personal
From my extensive experience working in the field of outplacement and speaking with people following a job loss, I can say with confidence that most people tend to take being let go personally, even if it was the result of a mass layoff. Most have conversations with themselves like this one:
Don’t they see the value I bring? I saved and made money for the business. I worked nights and weekends, giving up time with my family and friends. It seemed like we had a great relationship and worked together so well. Why me?
All these things may very well be true, but most of the time, the people making the decisions about layoffs know very little about the individual accomplishments of each team member. In layoff situations, employees are thought of in terms of roles or their salaries, amounting to a title and a number on an org chart. The people making the decisions are basing their decision on business and financial constraints rather than on individual performance.
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Shame is a barrier to success
I regularly speak with people whose shame over getting let go prevents them from being able to confidently express their employment experience and accomplishments in interviews. They try to hide the fact that they’ve been laid off from their LinkedIn network and their family and friends. This prevents them from exposure to opportunities.
As part of the First 30 program, I encourage jobseekers to take what I refer to as the ‘Signal-Flare Approach’ and be explicit about their job search so they can most effectively leverage their networks. Showing a little vulnerability can go a very long way and, as career professionals know, the broader the reach the better the chance of finding a great new job fast.
Changing the conversation
Prospective employers interviewing candidates, members of professional and personal support networks and employees affected by a layoff seeking employment all have a role to play when it comes to removing the stigma associated with job loss resulting from restructuring. It begins with the language we use about layoffs and the reactions we offer to candidates in this situation.
If you’re working with people who’ve been affected by a reorg, I suggest encouraging them to etch these three things into their mind: 1. They are not alone. 2. It’s not personal. 3. Shame will act as a barrier. I counsel candidates to craft and practise a de-personalized restructuring story. Rather than saying “I was laid off earlier this year,” a jobseeker might say something like, “Company X went through a widespread layoff this year, and unfortunately my role was affected.” The impact of this approach is two-fold: it demonstrates to a prospective employer this candidate was not singled out and that they have succeeded in de-personalizing their situation, which suggests they are professionally savvy.
In 2018, 21.9 million people were laid off according to the Bureau of Labor statistics US; in Canada, many people suffer job loss each month. It’s predicted between 75 million and 375 million people globally will need to change careers in the next decade (McKinsey Global Institute, Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained 2017). We need to help candidates who have suffered a job loss change their reaction so they are able to find meaningful work quickly.