Layoff; box of belongings

5 Steps to Surviving a Layoff through COVID-19

The current US unemployment rate is the highest since the great depression and growing. The COVID-19 pandemic has practically shut down the global economy, causing companies to layoff or furlough all or much of their workforce. The number of people rehired once the crisis winds down is uncertain. The Federal CARES Act provisions provide some relief. Still, employment is likely to be slow to return in most industries.

You may have been personally impacted or know someone who has. We’ve felt the impact in my family.

An unexpected layoff or early retirement at any point in time brings with it a lot of anxiety and emotion. It raises serious questions that weigh heavy on your mind… “How can this happen after I’ve given so much to the company for so many years? Will I be called back to work? How long will it take to get a new job? How will I continue to provide for my family? Will I have enough retirement income to pay for insurance and our monthly living expenses?”

What do you do if you find yourself downsized out? How do you exit as gracefully as you can and transition smoother than you thought possible?

These 5 steps are your keys to getting through this.

Step 1. Love yourself first

Don’t take this personal. Downsizing often happens as a matter of keeping companies profitable and competitive. In this environment of COVID-19, these actions are a matter of survival for your employer. However, these are never easy decisions for the company to make. Don’t blame yourself or others. Blaming becomes a barrier to moving forward. Besides, it won’t make a difference anyway.

Your first step is to discover and learn to appreciate who you are and the value you bring. Reflect on what you’ve accomplished. You’ve grown in experience, talents, and skills. You have value! Create a “My Value” list by writing your reflections down. You’ll be able to come back to this list when you need encouragement. Give yourself space to deal with and work through the emotions. But, don’t stay in that space. Let the best in you inspire you.

Step 2. Leave with a good reputation

Accept that it’s time to move on. Once announcements are made, even if you have time before you physically leave, the organization is already moving on without you. Do what you can to bring some closure to current projects. If you return to work, it will be easier to initiate those projects again. Leave your work organized and easy for someone to pick up after you’re gone. Assist with the transition. Be as objective as you can. Don’t participate in negative talk. You want to be remembered for your value. You never know where paths will cross again in the future.

Ask your manager about how those affected may receive any updates from the company throughout the crisis.

Step 3. Look ahead

If you were sitting with a fortune teller, what would she see in her crystal ball for you? What would you want her to say you have to look forward to? Feel hope and look ahead to imagine the possibilities. What have you always wanted to do? What are you passionate about? Where can your experience and skills add value to the next stage of your career?

Use the resources the company may make available to help you transition. Take advantage of the benefits of outplacement services immediately. You may feel embarrassed to go to the outplacement or the unemployment office. Don’t be. Use these to the fullest. Even though job opportunities are limited now, the job market will begin to open up over the course of the next several months. Focus on the actions you can begin taking now and over the next several weeks so you’ll be ready. Update your resume, network, seek and apply for openings. Your ideal job may not be available right away. Look at this transition as a marathon, not a sprint.

Step 4. Live with Courage

You have the courage within you to move forward beyond this layoff! From your reflections in these prior steps, you know you are a person of tremendous value! The best-laid plans need action. Dedicate your attention and time to your next chapter. It will take courage. You will experience disappointments. But, remember, a “NO” doesn’t mean failure, it means “Next Opportunity”. In the animated Christmas show, “Santa Clause is Coming to Town”, Kris Kringle sings “Put One Foot In Front of the Other” when he’s trying to help the Winter Warlock change his evil ways. The Winter Warlock’s first step began to change everything for himself. His life was so much better as a result. Move forward with the courage to act by taking a step at a time. You have what it takes!

The Kris Kringles in your network and support system are willing and waiting to help you move ahead. More people than you know have been in a similar situation and are glad to help you as others have helped them. It’s important to cultivate your network on an ongoing basis. Your next opportunity is often as good as your network. A word of caution, don’t just reach out to people when you need something. Relationships are reciprocal. Genuinely reach out and be willing to see how you can lend a hand.

Step 5: Look Beyond to New Possibilities 

I was recently back home in the mountains of West Virginia and was reminded of how beautiful a hike up the mountains can be in the spring. Once you reach the summit, you can look at the beauty and grandeur of the terrain. The view stretches as far as the eye can see. Like the boundary-less view of the horizon, your step forward opens new possibilities. Continue to dream! Better days lie ahead for you.

The beginning of this layoff or furlough seems daunting and uncomfortably uncertain. Have faith that your higher power will get you through this. Psalm 121 has been an encouragement to me particularly during this pandemic. I pray that these 5 steps and this scripture will be empowering for you.

Share this with others who are attempting to navigate their way through this crisis.

Catch the full Leading with Resilience: Crisis Survival Guide series and other resilience resources. I’ll be posting updates with resources over the next few weeks. 

Now is the time to equip your team to effectively lead through this crisis. I’m here to help. Email me directly

Team discussion

Leading Through a Layoff

If you are a leader faced with having to furlough or layoff employees during this COVID-19 pandemic, you’re feeling the pressure. You’re having to make tough decisions about your workforce. Through this process, you need to consider not only how to have the conversations with those affected employees, but also the team that remains. In this environment where most teams are working virtually, rumors and anxiety can escalate across your entire workforce. The parting will be painful and emotional.

I personally experienced my own corporate employers’ restructurings. Early in my career, peers were laid off from a leading healthcare company. I survived that layoff, but remember how painful that day was for those who left and those who stayed. Also, a few years ago during a thirteen-year career moving up the corporate ladder for a Fortune 50 company, my name was called in a layoff, after also having to layoff members of my team. This definitely was an emotional transition in my life. I’ve seen the same story play out for others time and time again. This time, on a grander scale.

In each of these situations, I observed how tough the transition has been for those being laid off, and for those staying with the company. But, we often don’t think about how tough the transition must be for the leaders who have to put the pieces back together with the remaining team. Most leaders have never been in a situation like this before, and don’t know how to handle it.

In executing a reduction in force, leaders are faced with two primary challenges – managing the transition of employees leaving and inspiring the team that remains.

How can you successfully navigate through both situations?

The strategies that follow are good guidelines whether during a crisis or during restructuring that organizations periodically experience.

Leading Employees Transitioning Out

How do you help employees transition out, when their shortened careers may not be by choice?
1. Be as transparent as you can – Help all employees on your team understand why the company needed to take this action, within the boundaries of what you can legally discuss. For those furloughed, be honest about the possibilities of not being brought back. Communication will help them better deal with the situation.
2. Appreciate them – Let your departing employees know that their service to the company is sincerely appreciated. Share how their contributions have been valued. Self-worth and self-confidence are usually at low points during these times. Even though you can’t reverse the action, it matters to know that their years of commitment and hard work were not unnoticed or unappreciated.
3. Be empathetic to their emotions and concerns; listen – People just want their concerns to be heard. Know that this is a very emotional situation that will take time to work through. Be empathetic by just acknowledging their feelings.
4. Share resources for next steps – Provide clear instructions on next steps for securing unemployment and ongoing benefits, and for using outplacement services. Share information on other industries / companies that are hiring, community support services, and other pertinent resources.
5. Give the space and bandwidth needed to transition out, where the situation permits – Don’t try to just suck the life out of emloyees before they leave. Determine how work will be reassigned as soon as you can and communicate it to the team. Give affected employees the bandwidth to close out projects and train other employees on the responsibilities.

Leading the Remaining Team

How do you handle the aftermath and coming days with the remaining employees?
1. What assurances can you give – Immediately meet with the team to acknowledge that things will be different, and they have your commitment that you will make the transition as smooth as possible. Assure them that ‘we’re all in this together’.
2. Be as transparent as you can – Communicate allowable information on what will happen next as soon as you can. Employees are wondering what’s ahead because the grapevine is ripe with rumors. Don’t sugarcoat the news. If the cuts are over, let them know that in order to ease other fears. However, don’t give false hope. Be honest if more restructuring is on the table and all the dust hasn’t settled yet. Trust can grow or be broken at times like these.
3. Appreciate them – Let them know how much you value their hard work and pitching in to make the transition work.
4. Be empathetic to their emotions and concerns; listen – Acknowledge that your employees feel unsettled and miss their coworkers. Empathize with their emotions and concerns. Share that you have the confidence in them to work together to make the transition as smooth as possible.
5. Make yourself available for employees to come to you with concerns – This will take time to work through. Let employees know your door is open to listen; however, don’t passively allow whining to take hold.
6. Provide direction – Your team is looking to you for guidance and direction on how to move forward. What does the new structure mean to the company and to your team? How do things change or stay the same? Invite input on how the team can work most effectively in the new environment. Create opportunities to strengthen relationships among the team.

You, leader, play a huge role in how restructuring transitions turn out.

If you are not proactive in leading your team through the process, you’ll have tougher consequences to deal with.


Share this with other leaders who are attempting to navigate their way through this crisis.

Catch the full Leading with Resilience: Crisis Survival Guide series and other resilience resources. I’ll be posting updates with resources over the next few weeks. 

Now is the time to equip your team to effectively lead through this crisis. I’m here to help. Email me directly