May 8, 2023 | Advancing Your Career

I just got laid off yesterday. I’m shocked. Why me?

Q. Dear Zenagos,
I just got laid off yesterday. I’m shocked. I just never thought it would be me. I’ve only been at the company for a year, but I thought it was going really well. Why me?
–Joe

It probably has nothing to do with you. Career transition coach Susan Peppercorn writes in Harvard Business Review, “[O]ver 95% of those clients [who were laid off] were terminated not for their own poor performance, but for business reasons such as a merger or acquisition, increased industry competition, a weakened economy, or company restructuring leading to downsizing” (Peppercorn, 2023). While your grandfather would likely have expected to work for a single organization for his entire career, the routine is entirely different today. Peppercorn relates that 40% of Americans have been laid off at least once in their career, and 28% have been laid off within the past two years. You are not alone.

There is a lot of movement in the job market right now
Being laid off right now can feel confusing. On the one hand, jobs reports are surprisingly good as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, despite rising interest rates and fears of a recession. In April 2023, employers added 253,000 jobs and unemployment fell to 3.4 percent (DePillis, 2023). However, despite these positive economic indicators, there have been a stunning series of layoff announcements. This week, Shopify announced a 20 percent workforce reduction – its second major round of layoffs in the past year (Evans, 2023). Layoffs are approaching 90,000 a month and include announcements in the past several weeks from Tyson Foods, 3M, WalMart, Bed, Bath, & Beyond, Yahoo!, Zoom, Boeing, Dell, Rivian, BuzzFeed, Lyft, Whole Foods, and Deloitte (Korn, 2023). Underneath the positive overall employment report, there is clearly a tremendous amount of churn.

Newer hires are at greater risk of being laid off
When employers need to make difficult decisions about which employees to lay off, they often prioritize staff who have been with the company for a longer time. CBS News cites one study that found that the likelihood of getting laid off is 62% for recent hires and 20% for longstanding employees. (Picciotto, 2023). This “last-in, first-out” approach is common, with well over half of human resources directors reporting that it is used in their organization (Picciotto, 2023). So, it may be that things were going very well at your job, but your company needed to make a tough choice, and you were unfortunate to be a more recent hire.

Give yourself some time to feel the feelings
Getting laid off is a terrible feeling. Research shows that people who have been laid off feel a little better about it if their company provides an explanation for the action (Wanberg, Gavin, & Bunce, 1999). However, nothing makes it feel okay to lose your job. It is important to acknowledge how you feel. Name the feelings and feel them. Practice some self-care – spend time with people who support you and make you feel good. If you enjoyed the company and your co-workers, you can expect to go through a mourning period, as you would with any loss.

Pick yourself up, and get back into the job search
While it is important to give yourself some time to recover, it is also critical not to wallow. If you let negative feelings about the layoff linger, you may have trouble getting back into the job search. When you are looking for a new role, it’s important to have high energy and a positive attitude. No employer is looking to hire someone who is bitter and depressed! And, research shows that if you expect to be successful in your search, you are more likely to succeed (Kanfer & Hulin, 1985). So, take the mindset that your job search is your job, for now. Go to “work” each day by creating a regular daily schedule. Make sure to shower and dress every day for your job search work. Be particular about starting and ending on time. Setting a work-like routine will help you to stay in the mental game.

It can be difficult to deal with any kind of change in your routine, much less one that is sudden and anxiety-producing. But, there are still a lot of great jobs out there, and you can win one of them. Do your best to put the shock behind you as quickly and possible, and get back in the job market. There’s nothing wrong with you. You can do this.

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References

DePillis, L. (2023, May 5). U.S. job growth retains vigor despite economic worries. New York Times. Retrieved on May 7, 2023 from https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/05/business/economy/jobs-report-april.html

Evans, P. (2023, May 4). Shopify to lay off 20% of staff: Company is selling its entire logistics division. CBC News. Retrieved on May 7, 2023 from https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/shopify-layoffs-1.6831842

Kanfer, R., & Hulin, C. L. (1985). Individual differences in successful job searches following lay‐off. Personnel psychology, 38(4), 835-847. Retrieved on May 7, 2023 from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ruth-Kanfer/publication/227749499_Individual_Differences_in_Successful_Job_Searches_Following_Lay-Off/links/5bbbc4caa6fdcc9552da79e6/Individual-Differences-in-Successful-Job-Searches-Following-Lay-Off.pdf

Korn, J. (2023, April 27). 2023 layoff tracker: The latest on which companies have announced job cuts. CNN Business. Retrieved on May 7, 2023 from https://www.cnn.com/2023/04/25/business/layoffs-2023/index.html

Peppercorn, S. (2023, January 17). Managing your emotions after being laid off. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved on May 7, 2023 from https://hbr.org/2023/01/managing-your-emotions-after-being-laid-off

Picciotto, R. (2023, April 19). If you’re a new hire, you’re more likely to be laid off—a Harvard expert’s No. 1 way to rebound. CBS News. Retrieved on May 7, 2023 from https://www.cnbc.com/2023/04/19/new-hires-layoffs-harvard-expert-tips.html

Wanberg, C. R., Gavin, M. B., & Bunce, L. W. (1999). Perceived fairness of layoffs among individuals who have been laid off: A longitudinal study. Personnel Psychology, 52(1), 59-84. Retrieved on May 7, 2023 from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Connie-Wanberg/publication/229734751_Perceived_fairness_of_layoffs_among_individuals_who_have_been_laid_off_A_longitudinal_study/links/5d370c3da6fdcc370a5804a2/Perceived-fairness-of-layoffs-among-individuals-who-have-been-laid-off-A-longitudinal-study.pdf

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