Just found out you are losing your job? Let’s be honest. That sucks. I empathize with the state of suckiness in which you reside.
In June 2013, I received confirmation of the planned elimination of my position due to employee communications being consolidated within Corporate Communications. What was supposed to be a six-week transition turned into nine months (I gave birth to an unemployment “labor” statistic). The extensions provided more time to save money and prepare for the inevitable. Yet, with all my preparation, when March 28, 2014, arrived, the reality of losing my job still sucked.
Here are my tips for dealing with a job loss and what you can expect. While I wrote this from the perspective of someone in a relationship, apply as relevant to your situation.
1. Expect to go through some, if not all, of the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
I didn’t experience denial (I’m too much of a realist) or bargaining. Most of my colleagues would be surprised to know that I went through anger and depression despite my upbeat, positive attitude. If you experience anger or depression before or after your termination date that affects your daily life or your relationships, ask for help from your employee assistance program, your doctor, or other health care or mental health professional because studies confirm…
2. Unemployment can be bad for your health. You have to take care of you.
Before my severance date, I made sure I was up-to-date on all my preventive exams and tests and filled all prescriptions.
3. The best revenge is success.
My mother taught me not to burn bridges when exiting a job, and she taught me that long before social media could make your stupid comment or video go viral to the entire world. No matter how pissed you are, take my mother’s advice and don’t burn those bridges no matter how good it may feel at the time. I don’t burn bridges because I believe the best revenge is success and that inspires me every day.
4. Hold yourself to high standards or even higher standards than you did prior to the job-loss announcement.
I didn’t owe anything to the company that severed its relationship with me after years of hard, award-winning work. Yet, the need to leave my colleagues and friends in HR, for whom I strategized, wrote, and designed communication campaigns, with the tools and knowledge to communicate their programs after I was gone consumed me.
From my 2013 Performance Feedback, received February 2014 – about six weeks prior to my severance date: “Watching how she has handled this very difficult challenge of having her position eliminated has impressed, amazed and inspired me. Jennifer has exhibited a sense of professionalism that I have rarely seen, along with her commitment to do the right thing for her clients, customers, teammates and company.”
While carrying out the pranks I thought up might have been a lot more fun, I felt better about me knowing I had done the right things in the face of adversity.
5. Prepare for the worst-case scenario.
As soon as you have an inkling that your job is in trouble, start preparing for a lengthy unemployment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (one of my favorite data websites), as of June 2014, the average unemployment lasts 31.4 weeks. You need to make several major decisions within 31 days of your termination date due to IRS “life event” regulations. Don’t start planning on the day of your termination.
Here are a few of the considerations you may face.
Contact HR right away to determine:
- Your severance benefit. Make sure you get what your company’s policy indicates.
- How much it will cost to go on COBRA. Compare that cost to going on your spouse’s/partner’s insurance.
- If you switch insurance, does your doctor participate in the new plan?
- If you have multiple options, cost each individually – medical, dental, vision.
- Don’t look at premiums only – take into account your utilization, prescriptions, co-pays, co-insurance, deductibles, etc.
- Carefully, and I mean CAREFULLY, research the ramifications of selecting COBRA if you need to go on ObamaCare before the next open enrollment period.
I switched to Tricare for my medical and vision and went on my husband’s civilian job’s dental insurance for the most comprehensive coverage and best overall value.
- What will happen to your pension, 401(k) account, life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment, flexible spending accounts, and voluntary benefits like pet insurance? My 401(k) account was large enough to remain with Vanguard (good news). I was going to lose my life insurance, so that was a priority to replace, which I did through the military.
- What happens with unused, earned vacation days? Some states require companies to pay you for unused vacation days.
- What, if any, bonus or incentive payments you can expect to receive and when?
- Are you eligible for reemployment following severance?
Familiarize yourself with your state’s unemployment compensation regulations.
- How soon can you file?
- What is the approximate benefit you can expect to receive?
- How many weeks are you eligible for unemployment benefits?
- Are there any restrictions on being self-employed (meaning any type of work for which a company pays you directly, including freelancing or consulting)? In some states you are ineligible for unemployment if you appear to be self-employed, such as posting affiliate network banner ads on your personal website (notice, there are none on mine) or if you incur expenses to start a business even if you aren’t making a profit, such as buying business cards
- Is there a work search activity requirement?
Do you need unemployment as a crutch to get you through until you find a job or is unemployment a safety net? Answer this question to guide other decisions.
Talk with a financial advisor to determine the best path for solvency based on your circumstances.
- Do you have an emergency savings fund? How much should have you have?
- Will your savings and unemployment cover your household expenses?
- Do you have credit card debt that you’ll be unable to pay?
- What are the consequences of pulling your 401(k) savings to cover expenses?
- Is it best to put money into an emergency savings fund or should you use that money to pay down credit card debt now?
Even if you think your company could be the corporate patron saint of ethics, discuss your situation with an attorney who specializes in employment law. If possible, get a copy of the severance agreement in advance. If you are the victim of a discriminatory action, you only have a set number of days to file a complaint from the date of the vent. An attorney will ask you questions regarding your employment and termination to determine if a discriminatory action has occurred of which you may not be aware.
An attorney can also advise you as to whether or not your severance agreement is “buying” your silence or claiming your work as the company’s intellectual property, and the implications. There may be a clause in your severance agreement that limits with whom you may share the details of your severance, what you may say about your soon-to-be former employer, and several other clauses that provoked the EEOC’s ire enough this year to file lawsuits against at least two companies, including CVS.
There may even be a clause that says you can’t step foot on company property, so while you should cross stalking your old employer off your to-do list, verify if you can enter the property as an employee of another company (such as in a contractor or consultant capacity).
A job loss not only affects the individual, but a household. One partner shouldn’t feel like they are on a financial precipice while the other continues spending as if nothing changed. Armed with the above information and your current expenses, sit down together to assess your financial situation and create a budget based on the worst-case scenario – an extended unemployment without receiving unemployment compensation, and during which time you will need emergency funds for at least one major household expense.
Three months into my unemployment, we needed a new central air unit installed after our dinosaur started showing signs of imminent extinction, and on my yearly trip to Camp Two Old Broads over the July 4 holiday, while driving down Mount Nittany, I discovered that I needed new brakes and rotors. I kissed goodbye to almost $3,500 in two weeks.
TIP: You and your partner need to agree on what expenses to cut. For expenses outside the routine budget, like nights out, new shoes, or household repair and maintenance stuff, I suggest setting an amount whereby you mutually agree upon any purchases above it first.
6. Get used to your new existence as persona non grata.
As word of your impending unemployment status spreads, some people will quietly sever their relationship with you. Prepare yourself now for the texts, emails, and phone calls that go unanswered and for not being included in the office gossip. Remember, you are not a communicable disease, but you may be a victim of office politics.
7. Be thankful for small (and large) acts of kindness, and accept them gracefully.
It was the acts of kindness that sent me into the restroom with tears in my eyes, not my persona non-grata status. Being independent-minded and prideful, I turned down friends who offered to take me out for lunch. It didn’t occur to me that I was depriving them of an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of our relationship — it wasn’t about the money or my soon-to-be lack thereof.
My manager, Mel, treated me with nothing but respect and incomparable dignity while we journeyed through my nine-month transition. Her compassion continues to inspire me to want to make her proud. For many it is unfathomable that I have good memories of my last week at work. Yet, the acts of kindness championed on my behalf humbled me, and I remain forever grateful. To learn more about my journey, read The Fun Yet Wise Leader, which I wrote as a gift for Mel and gave to her as a photobook. You may need to rotate it counterclockwise.
My best friend, Lisa, and I recently witnessed the surprise of a former colleague who ran into us while we were shopping. I was enjoying a spree courtesy of a Marshall’s gift card Lisa had given me for my birthday. Paraphrasing the colleague when she saw us, “Wow, it’s great that the two of you still hang out together.” Lisa and I never considered that my unemployment would change our relationship. While work was the foundation for our friendship, and we miss seeing each other every day, work was not the cement that held it together. Yet, prepare yourself for the work friendships that don’t survive.
9. You’ll want to hear how work is suffering without you. Focus on your new world instead.
My dad always asks if my former employer and the programs I helped achieve success are falling apart without me there to work my magic. I remind him every week that (a) if they are, no one shares that information with me, like there is an unspoken, unwritten moratorium against sharing what the post-Jennifer world looks like; and (b) what is happening in the post-Jennifer world at my former employer is irrelevant to my reality. My life goes on and so does life at my former company.
Here’s an analogy that puts this into perspective. Think of losing your job and your relationship with that company like a bad breakup. No matter how bad it gets at your former employer, it is unlikely someone is going to call you to say, “Oh, we were wrong. We know now that we made a bad decision and should never have let you go. We fired the (insert your choice of offensive noun) who convinced us this was a good idea. Please come back. We’ll never cheat on you again.” That’s not going to happen. Like the usually bad decision to go back with an ex (when does that ever end well?), my hunch remains that returning to an employer (if your severance agreement allows it) that previously severed you will not be in your best interest – emotionally or for your sense of security.
10. You need a job, not unicorns and fairy dust.
Despite the unicorn and fairy dust articles you read on LinkedIn describing this period of your career as the perfect opportunity to find your dream job with no cares or worries of replacing your previous income, most of us will be damn glad and grateful to the first employer who believes in us post-severance.
Did you find this information useful? If so, let me know. To my HR brethren, any additional advice that you’d offer?
If you find any typos, please do me the professional courtesy of letting me know. Thanks!
Coming soon, I’ll share the next stage of my journey — what I learned in my first couple of months of unemployment.