The Upside of Mass Layoffs

by Carlos Portocarrero on 18 February 2011 6 comments
Photo: lisafx

Getting fired sucks; there’s no getting around that. But when you’re fired along with a bunch of other people at once, it’s a different story.

In corporate speak, they’re called reorganizations. We call them bloodbaths.

Typically there are some high-level things in play when a mass layoff goes down. From a bad economy to a new CEO with a new direction, it doesn’t always mean you’ve done a bad job or done anything wrong. (See also: You're Fired! 20 Signs That a Pink Slip Is Coming)

This makes it easier to find something positive out of the whole fiasco. Here are four positives to a mass layoff/bloodbath/reorganization.

An Expanded Network

A mass layoff is like poking an anthill with a stick: All those ants fleeing the hill are going to end up somewhere, and it’s up to you to keep in touch with all those people who are being forced to go.

You’ve been working with these people every day for years, and they know you better than you think. Guess what’s going to happen: They’re all going to get jobs doing something else at some other company (or working for themselves). In a matter of months (more or less), your network is going to double or possibly triple, and you’ll have that common ground of having gone through the “reorganization” together.

Companies you didn’t even know existed will now be “infiltrated” with the people that know you and your work the best.

This is huge. For example:

  • The designer you worked with to crank out that impossible project over the weekend that one time? He’s now a senior designer over at company X.
     
  • The project manager who took you under his wing because he saw some potential is now working at a tech startup that is growing fast.
     
  • The copywriter that always came by to ask for you to proofread his copy is at an ad agency across town that needs freelancers…didn’t you always want to work at an ad agency?

A strong network is crucial to your long-term career prospects, and a mass layoff means the number of companies that know about you is going to grow fast.

A Fresh Start

When a friend of mine got fired a few years ago, I walked up to him and tried to find the right combination of words to comfort and console.

Instead, he looked relieved: “I can finally leave!”

It struck a chord with those of us that weren’t fired, and for the rest of the day we wondered who the lucky ones really were.

Getting fired is like getting a kick in the pants to go out and do what you really want to do. We all tend to complain about our jobs, but we rarely do anything about it. Once you get fired, you have no choice: It’s time to get your ass in gear.

My friend felt liberated because his job had become more and more tedious and restrictive. While he wanted to free himself from it, it’s hard to leave a full-time job that pays the bills, especially when the economy sucks.

Getting fired gave him a fresh start. He had the time to take a closer look at his life and his career and ask himself that eternal question: What do I really want to do with my life?

Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity and don’t waste it…it doesn’t come around often (hopefully).

A Lesson in Skills

Who survived the bloodbath? Don’t try to write everyone off as a brown-noser that simply “knew the right people.” Take an honest look at the people that were left behind.

Sometimes it’ll be as simple as “all the engineers were kept” or “marketing wasn’t impacted at all," which is still useful — maybe you should pick up some skills in fields that are widely considered untouchable.

Other times it will be more nuanced. If the guy who always contributed new ideas without being asked for them was kept on, that’s something to take into your next job. What about the person who started as a terrible presenter but worked hard to get better? Was that improvement valued enough that they kept him on?

Pay close attention, and you should be able to find some common details that stick out, details that can help when you’ve found a job you love and want to survive the next reorganization.

A Chance to Test Your Mettle

There is a great book out there called A Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. In it he describes his experiences in concentration camps during World War II.

The interesting thing about Frankl is that he viewed these terrible conditions as an opportunity to see what he was made of.

Think about that for a second: A man that was in one of the most horrible places and times in the history of the world thought to himself, “Wow, how many people get to experience something this awful? It’s a great chance to see what I’m capable of in how I react to this.”

If Frankl can turn being in a concentration camp into something positive, we should have no problem taking a positive out of getting fired from a job.

You have no job, and your previous employer just told you they don’t want you anymore: What are you going to do about it?

  • Are you going to pity yourself and complain that it’s their loss?
  • Are you going to blame your old boss because he was “a jerk?”
  • Are you going to cop out and say that you were about to quit anyway?

How about being honest with yourself and taking the time to learn a thing or two about yourself? Ask:

  • What can I change to make myself a more worthwhile employee?
  • Who can I talk to about giving me an honest assessment about my work?
  • What am I going to do differently in the future?

It’s all about learning and growing. If you just got fired and are facing a terrible economy, a monthly mortgage payment, and high-interest credit-card debt, what are you going to do about it?

This is a rare chance to test yourself and see what you’re made of.

What you find may surprise you.

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Meg Favreau's picture

A few of my friends were recently part of a mass layoff, and while they're not happy to be out of work, they are enjoying the benefits. Another upside is both smaller and most likely temporary, but one friend has been enjoying the opportunity to cook lunch at home and exercise during the day.

Has anyone been part of a layoff and experienced other upsides?

Guest's picture

I always view mass layoffs as the chance for people to do what they really want. What is usually holding them back is their attachment to the paycheck and job security. The desperation that comes from being unemployed has led to the successes of many people.

Guest's picture
Deb

I have been on both sides of a mass layoff, I even have had to decide who would be part of the layoff. I am here to say that I believe the people left behind are usually the ones that suffer the most. Being 'let go' has been very freeing for me. I so enjoy my life now. The people left behind are still very unhappy and dislike the company they are working for.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

I think the really tough part is actually going through it, the mental part of it, stress, etc. I personally haven't been there but I've had friends that have.

It's easy to sit here and write about how great it can be, but when it actually happens it can't be easy or "exciting."

Guest's picture
Lynn

My husband was part of a mass lay-off. He has been down this road more than once. The good news is that you are in the same boat as many others and are not alone. The bad news is that you are in this boat and have to figure out how to stay afloat. For us, unemployment does not cover much of anything as far as bills. He did not receive any severance package. I am working full-time for the benefits for the family at a retail store and he found a fork-lift job at a warehouse. We are barely making our bills. We hope this situation is temporary but are unsure with this job market. I had suggested a career change but he is unwilling to do that. This time around though, he said he decided to think "out of the box" when it comes to looking for a job. He said that maybe working for a large company isn't the right path for him. He said that if he's interested in a position, maybe he will negotiate for things other than pay that could seal the deal. Company car? Severance pkg? So, at least he is thinking for when he gets an interview. I hope this new way of thinking works out for him!

Guest's picture
A

I've been on both sides also. First time, I was one of the laid-off group. I did feel happy, but that company offered outstanding severance, benefits, etc., so there was a feeling of security while I searched for another position. I liked the job very much, but I was also ready to look for something different, so the timing was good for me.

Second time, I'm one of the surviving employees. I do miss my co-workers, but the company I'm with now is great and morale does not seem to have taken a terrible turn. This company also gave very good benefits to those who had to leave.

I think it must be much worse when laid-off people are treated badly, with little notice or severance or benefits. Although it can be exciting to look for something new, it's scary when it's a sudden kick out the door with little support.