The First 5 Things You Must Do After Getting Laid Off

by Ashley Watson on 29 August 2014 1 comment

A few weeks ago, I was laid off for the very first time.

I managed to stay calm and do everything I needed to do to make sure I wouldn't end up on the streets in a month. I think it was the shock, but whatever the reason, it taught me that I am stronger than I realized and that I have a tremendous support system. (See also: Job Hunting Tips for the Recently Fired)

These are the five things I learned to do and to keep in mind if you lose a job.

1. Don't Panic

Yes, this seems obvious. However, it is something I told myself from the minute I started cleaning out my desk. And it helped tremendously. For many people, panic can be crippling. Sometimes when I get overwhelmed, I become paralyzed and don't take care of the basic tasks I need to do to get myself through a crisis. Neglecting basic needs can affect your overall health and ability to keep moving.

When you are in a state of panic, you are also more likely to make poor decisions. Most psychologists will tell you that after any loss, it is important not to make big decisions. Before you sell your house or relocate, give yourself some time to find another job. You may find a job that pays more than the one you lost. It's also important to understand what an actual panic attack looks like and what to do when you are having a panic attack. Just keep telling yourself, "Don't Panic." You will be surprised at how much this simple statement will help you get through this time and land on your feet again.

2. Apply for Unemployment and Contact Creditors ASAP

After giving myself time to process everything and take a deep breath, I applied for unemployment benefits the day after I was laid off. This is important to do as soon as you can because it can take weeks for you to get your benefits if you qualify. Also, be sure to check for benefits that you might need immediately, such as health insurance. I called my state's Medicaid office right after I called the unemployment office, and I asked them to expedite the process because I needed a refill for an expensive medication in just a few days. They were very sympathetic and moved the process along quickly. Many people are understanding if you just explain the situation.

Additionally, if you have any outstanding bills, such as student loans or utilities, call to see if they will work with you until you get your unemployment benefits. Most companies are willing to do this, and if you have student loans, you can get a temporary forbearance until your unemployment starts, at which time you should be able to defer them. Your unemployment office should offer several services that can help you navigate the free resources that are available to you.

3. Reach Out to People for Support

While I was fairly good about making sure I filled out all the paperwork and made all the necessary phone calls after I lost my job, it all hit me at once a few days after it happened. That's when I knew I needed to call my former therapist to make an appointment. I also called my friends, not only for moral support, but also to see if they could get together for coffee or just to hang out. I knew that I didn't need to be in my apartment alone.

You can also find job loss support groups. Ask your local unemployment office, or try social media. I found a few of these support groups on LinkedIn. Whatever your method, it's important to get your support system in place early on so that you have someone to turn to if you do start to panic.

4. Don't Burn Bridges

Make sure you follow up with any loose ends from your job, such as transferring health or life insurance policies. If you get fired, don't cause a scene. I've seen other co-workers get fired, and a few of them caused such a scene that the HR person had to hover over their desks as they were packing up. Luckily, my situation was different, and they at least let me leave with dignity.

But I also called my former manager a few days after I had time to process to tell him that I didn't have any hard feelings and to also ask if he would be a reference. Most importantly, don't put anything out there on social media that would hurt your chances of finding another job. I've seen friends post long, angry diatribes about their former employers, which I encouraged them to remove. Harboring anger is not helping your emotional state, nor will it help you land a new job.

5. Be Gentle With Yourself

During a crisis like this one, blaming yourself will not help; it will only make it worse. Try to take the judgement out of any of your actions, unless you are praising yourself for applying for another job or giving yourself a break. Give yourself some breathing room.

Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D offers some useful advice along these lines. Her first suggestion is to take time to recover, but she also argues that part of the recovery process is to focus on what you can control rather than dwelling on what you cannot control. For instance, you cannot control what has already happened, so worrying about getting fired is living in the past, which will only bring you down. Worrying about finding another job can also hold you back. Spend that energy on making your resume stronger and finding the right job.

Immediately after I got the news, I called one of my most practical friends, who reminded me that I could do all the necessary steps the next day and that I should just give myself the afternoon to call loved ones and process what just happened. This was sage advice, because I was in no state to take care of business. But the occasional gentle reminder to be kind to yourself and focus on what you can control throughout this process will make a huge difference in your ability to function and figure out the next steps.

Have you ever been laid off from a job? How did you cope?

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I think the most important tips that you posted are to be gentle with yourself and to not burn bridges. Sometimes we let our emotions get the best of us and make bad decisions when packing our things up or when walking out. You never know when you might need that letter of recommendation..