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Let's Talk About Layoffs

“No, let’s don’t. Seriously, Sinikka. No one is going to read that. That is tough stuff. Dark. Miserable. There’s no positive spin here. You can’t go there. Don’t touch that.”

Friends, I’m not sure how many of you know this, but the very beginning of Your Clear Next Step includes a layoff. If I trace back the history of this company, there are some pivotal moments leading up to its foundation. There are the moments which confirmed for me that I was created to teach; the moments where I discovered that project management just made sense for who I was and how my brain worked; the moments when I knew being an inspirational leader was something I wanted to do, and to help others do.

But then there was the moment when I was part of a hideous corporate layoff. That day was when helping others through layoffs and helping organizations to create better workdays, became a part of my big game strategy.

That was more than 20 years ago. Now, here we are today: Fall of 2023. In the last seven days, I've had no fewer than seven conversations with people who have been impacted by layoffs in their organizations or in their families. This hurts, it’s real, and we need to talk about it.

If you have been impacted by a layoff, the first thing I want you to know is I’m sorry. It’s tough, and stressful, and something no one should have to deal with. The intent of this blog is to offer some insights to anyone who is, or knows someone who is, impacted by a layoff. I want to offer some tools, resources, thoughts, and glimmers of hope to help you through these dark times.


If You’ve Been Laid Off

If your position has been eliminated, the first thing I would implore you to do is recognize your feelings. Bottling them up is not useful. Allowing yourself time to feel the feelings that you're feeling will help you process them and move forward.

The second thing I offer you is the fundamental truth - the absolute reality - that you are more than your job. Your job is part of who you are and how you show up, but you have meaning outside of your job. Now is a great time to remind yourself of that, and surround yourself with others who help you recognize your identity beyond that which is wrapped up in your workplace.

The third thing I'll offer is that this transition from where you are today to wherever you're going to be next, is going to take time. Rome, as they say, was not built in a day. This transition will not happen overnight. So, even if you move to a new role that you love, there will still be “the change curveto go through, and transition will still take time. Be patient with yourself and those around you.


If You Haven’t Been Laid Off, but Your Colleagues Have

First, you may be feeling a gnawing sensation that resembles survivor’s guilt. “Why am I still here, but they’re gone? Why was my job spared, while they have to wrestle with an employment search?” There are no good answers to this, only uncomfortable questions. I can’t offer you comfort, only the reassurance that what you’re feeling is completely normal.

So don’t avoid your questions and ask your leader - finding the answers is better than stumbling blindly in the dark. For those left behind, finding connection in conversation is one of the few ways forward.

Second, you’re likely feeling overwhelmed, with burnout not far behind. Again, I can’t offer you relief. This is real. I have three items that top my list of recommendations for you:

  • Talk to your leader about prioritizing your tasks.
  • Quickly identify what can fall by the wayside (spoiler alert: it can’t all be done).
  • Make sure you’ve got a solid plan to manage your own mental wellbeing.

Often, not far below the surface is something that looks a lot like anger or resentment. Bitterness at the extra work, the source of the situation, or the unfairness of it all. These are all totally fair. Having been there, I invite you to find healthy ways to work through that bitterness rather than internalize it. Don’t let it eat at you from the inside. Talking it through with a professional can help.

And of course, let’s not forget fear. "What if this happens again? What if they’re not done? What if my job is next?" That uncertainty can cast a pall over everything, making it hard to focus on the task at hand. Finding the things you are certain of and taking control of the things you can control are good steps. Discussing immediate next steps and creating backup plans for yourself and those in your care can help you feel more secure.


If You’re a Leader and Employees in Your Organization Have Been Laid Off

Whether the layoffs were directly or indirectly your decision, whether they were the fault of things outside of organizational control or the result of human error, blame isn't particularly helpful. Some good things to do:
    • Explain how we got here.
    • Accept accountability for what's yours to own.
    • Refrain from pointing fingers.
    • Provide reassurance to those who are still here. Help them to feel secure, so they are not worried that they might be next.

We can't get back what's gone, so dwelling for too long on how it went away is not productive.

Sitting alongside someone in their grief and in their times of loss speaks volumes towards leadership and good character, and can show that you care. If you can ease someone's pain in a pragmatic way, do so. This could include compensation, job relocation, job search assistance, etc. Try and do something, even if that is just sitting with them.

As a leader in an organization that has experienced a layoff, it's hard to feel anything other than failure. But someone recently reminded me that failure is only a failure if we don’t learn anything. So, let this moment not pass you by without learning something.

  • What do we/you know now that we/you didn't know before?
  • In what way are we/you smarter now than we/you were before?
  • What did we/you miss that we/you won't ever miss again?
  • What can we/you watch for, so we don't ever get here again?
  • What did we/you not say that we/you'll never stay silent on again?


If Someone You Care About Has Been Laid Off

Layoffs are hard. There's no way around it. Anger, resentment, denial, sadness, depression, fear, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, shame - Layoffs can bring out any of those and then some! And any one of those emotions can cause us to behave in ways that are different than our regular behaviors. So, if you've got someone in your sphere who has been impacted by a layoff, whether this is someone you work with or someone you live with, give grace.

You may need to give them a little bit of space, or you may need to get a little closer. It's going to depend on the person, and you know them better than I can pretend to. All I can say is to connect with them with an authentic human connection

If you are work buddies, know that their work experience may look a little different right now - it's hard to stay focused in November when you know your last day of work is December 1st.

If you are family, know that especially as we approach the holidays, this year may look a little different than others. Celebrations may feel a little off when they don't feel like celebrating, so try not to push them, but try to make sure they are included and know they are loved.

This is going to take time. As they move from stable at their last job to stable in whatever comes next, there’s a period of transition  that’s going to take some time. No matter how quickly the calendar shows it’s going to happen, this transition will take some time, so be patient.


If None of This Applies to You Today

If right now in the Fall of 2023 you are completely unimpacted by layoffs, congratulations! You’re one of the lucky ones. That means you've got two big responsibilities:

First - make sure you are building your own network. You never know when you're going to need a solid network to catch you in the case of your own unexpected change. That's what networks are for, so make sure you are building and maintaining good relationships. Keep your LinkedIn fresh, keep your resume updated, and maintain good and positive relationships with people in your professional sphere.

Second - scroll through your current LinkedIn network, because you might just have someone in your network who is “open to work” right now. While you think you have not been impacted by a layoff, it's possible that someone in your network has, and you might have a connection who can help them. Become a super connector and help connect people to opportunities.


For those of you who’ve known me for a while, you may not know it’s not just me anymore. There are 23 coaches and trainers on this team now, and we’ve got tools, resources, coaching, and support to help you have better workdays, wherever you find yourself.


Let us know how we can help. That’s why we’re here! 

Want to connect with me personally? Reach out – it’s why I’m here. 




Topics: Sinikka Waugh, Change & Transition

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! contactus@yourclearnextstep.com

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