What to Do When You're Laid Off

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

What it means to be laid off and how to move forward after experiencing a layoff.

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Being laid off can be an emotional experience. It requires you to balance logistics, such as your exit plan and any separation paperwork, while simultaneously managing the physical, mental, and emotional reactions commonly associated with job loss, such as sleep problems, increased stress levels, and shame [1].

Although a layoff is generally considered an undesirable experience, there are some actions you can take to make the most of this transition and turn it into an opportunity to reassess your career goals. This article will discuss what to expect during a layoff and what to do if laid off.

What does 'laid off' mean?

If you were laid off, it means your employer terminated your employment. In other words, it means you were let go from your job. Layoffs are generally understood as the company’s fault—due to shifting priorities or poor planning—rather than the individual experiencing the layoff.

Some common reasons for layoffs include:

  • Restructuring

  • Mergers and acquisitions

  • Economic downturn

  • Company closure or downsizing

Layoff vs. firing vs. furlough

Whether you were laid off, fired, or furloughed, you can expect that you won’t be returning to your job indefinitely or for a while. To know how you should move forward, it’s important to understand the differences between each term.

Layoffs and firings both tend to indicate indefinite termination. Whereas layoffs are typically understood as the employer's fault, firings are often seen as the employee’s fault. You may be fired as a result of disciplinary action or poor performance.

Furloughs, on the other hand, are temporary leaves due to company circumstances. Furloughed employees cannot work nor receive pay but may still receive company benefits, such as accruing holidays. After the furlough period, employers expect employees to return to their positions.

A company may furlough employees during economic downturns from which they expect to recover. For example, many companies furloughed employees during the widespread shutdowns at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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What to do after a layoff

Once you’re past the flurry of layoff logistics, you’ll have more space to focus on your present needs and future goals. Here are a few things you can do to move forward after being laid off:

1. Make a financial plan.

Personal finances can be one of the most pressing stressors after a layoff. Since your financial situation is in flux, a new plan may help soothe some of those worries. Mapping out the funds available—such as your final paycheck, severance pay, and savings—and reorganising your budgets can give you a realistic picture of your needs moving forward.

2. Assess your immediate needs.

Going through a layoff can feel like a sudden transition, and taking care of yourself during this significant life change is essential. Beyond your financial plan, pay attention to other immediate needs, whether they are physical, mental, or emotional. Developing new routines and engaging with self-care habits that align with this new phase can create the space you need to consider your next steps.

Some people use this transition as a reflection period. What do you value, and how can you express those values through your daily actions?

3. Reflect on your career goals.

The period following a layoff can be a productive time to reconsider your career goals. What did you learn about yourself and your work preferences through your previous position? What would you like to do more of, and what would you like to leave behind? What outcomes would you like to see for yourself moving forward?

By targeting your job search with those answers in mind, you can turn this negative experience into a positive twist along your career journey. Here are some ways you can work toward your new career goals:

Learning new skills

The period following a layoff could be a great time to pick up a new skill, especially if you may be interested in a career change. However, depending on your financial situation, you may want to invest only a little money into furthering your education. Fortunately, there are many online resources where you can learn new skills—or continue practicing old ones—for free. Check out these popular free online courses on Coursera and start learning today.

Updating your CV

As you begin applying for jobs, you’ll likely need an updated CV. You may also want to update your LinkedIn profile and prepare a personalised cover letter template to present your qualifications and accomplishments to potential employers.

Talking to others

You can talk to your peers and colleagues about your new goals while searching for a job. Your network can be a powerful tool during your job search. A former coworker may introduce you to your next boss or your friend who successfully transitioned into your desired industry and can offer tips on the certifications you may want to pursue. The more open you are about your goals, the more opportunities you create for people to help you.

Keep growing

As you move toward this next career phase, consider whether learning new skills or brushing up on old ones can help you succeed. Browse the most popular free courses on Coursera, or get job-ready with a Professional Certificate from industry leaders like Google, Meta, and IBM. Start learning today for free.

Article sources

1. Workplace Psychology. “Layoffs (Usually) Don’t Work and Why They Harm More Than Help, https://workplacepsychology.wordpress.com/2018/12/03/layoffs-usually-dont-work-and-why-they-harm-more-than-help/.” Accessed February 28, 2024.

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