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What to Do If You're Worried About a Layoff

BY ALISON DOYLE   Updated on February 16, 2021

Even in boom times, job security is never truly assured. Add a challenging economy to the picture, however, and you have a recipe for some serious career anxiety. If you’ve been laid off before, perhaps during a previous downturn, you may be even more concerned about losing your job.

Obviously, you can’t control the economy or your employer’s personnel decisions. But you’re not totally without options, either. If you think that a layoff may be coming to your organization soon, start preparing now by taking the following steps to protect yourself and your career.

Keep Communication Lines Open

Hopefully, you’re already in close contact with your manager. If so, keep it up. Now’s not the time to reschedule your one-on-ones, no matter how busy (or stressed out) you become.

But what if you’re not tight with your boss? In that case, now’s a good time to make it clear that you’re there to support the team. 

Reach out to your manager and ask about pressing priorities and ways you can help. Be willing to take constructive criticism if it’s offered, and continue doing your best work, even if it becomes clear that a layoff is looming. Remember that every colleague is a potential contact for future recommendations and referrals—even a so-so boss.

Note: There’s rarely any point in asking if a layoff is coming. Human resources will likely advise managers not to let the staff know until the actual start date of the notice period pending their separation.

Look for Clues

Just because your manager won’t tell you that there’s about to be a layoff doesn’t mean you can’t get advance notice. In fact, if your company has 100 or more employees, it may be required by law to notify you ahead of time.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) requires many private employers to give 60 days’ notice before a plant shutdown or mass layoff. Employers are usually covered under the WARN Act if they have 100 or more employees who work at least 20 hours a week. Some state and local governments also have laws that require advance notice of layoffs. 

But even if your employer isn’t legally required to tell you that your job is in jeopardy, there may be signs that your situation isn’t stable. Look for negative news about the company’s finances (perhaps by checking published company accounts), major changes in management or the executive team, or a sudden change in workflow. 

Note:If you suddenly find yourself without much to do at work, that might be an indicator that it’s time to look for a new job.

Get Your Finances in Order

In general, financial experts will tell you to keep three to six months’ worth of expenses in your emergency fund. But in an economic climate where nearly 20% of adults still say they couldn’t come up with $2,000 for an unexpected emergency expense, and 14% have wiped out their emergency fund altogether, that’s a heavy lift.

Start by tightening up your expenses. Look for places to cut unnecessary expenditures, including streaming services, unused gym memberships, and other items that are fairly painless to trim. Then, divert as much as you can into savings. Every little bit helps. If you have time, you might also look into side gigs, freelance work, or other part-time jobs to boost your financial cushion.

Update Your Resume

Get your resume ready for new opportunities. Trim old, unrelated work experience and cut dated job titles and filler like “references upon request.” Consider a new resume format, perhaps one with a skills section that emphasizes your qualifications.

Important: Remember to customize your resume for each job application. A generic resume won’t impress the hiring manager as much as one that’s tailored to the position.

Reach Out to Your Contacts

PayScale research shows that over a third of workers landed their current job through a referral. But even if networking doesn’t result in an immediate job opportunity, it can help you build a stronger professional safety net. 

The more people you know, the more people you’ll have to help you when you need your next job, informational interview, or grad school recommendation. So, reach out to your former colleagues, roommates, or classmates. Set up a coffee date or virtual hangout. Reconnect and look for opportunities to help them first. They’ll remember you fondly the next time you need a hand.

Start a Job Search

When you’re worried about a layoff, the best advice is not to wait until it happens. Start getting yourself mentally, emotionally, and financially prepared today, before it’s an emergency. Best-case scenario, nothing will happen, and you’ll have a better resume, a more resilient emergency fund, and a stronger professional network. Worst-case, you’ll get laid off but eventually land on your feet.

Prioritize Self-Care

Studies have shown that layoffs negatively affect people’s physical and emotional health.5 So, don’t feel bad if the possibility of facing a layoff has left you in an emotional tailspin. Your reaction is a normal response to an incredibly stressful situation.

It’s essential to take care of yourself while you’re dealing with uncertainty in your career. While you’re getting your professional house in order, don’t forget to leave time and energy to unwind, connect with family and friends, exercise, and rest. You’ll get better results and feel healthier and happier, even during a tough time.

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