10 Rules for Surviving Being Laid Off

Being laid off sucks. One moment you’re working away, and the next, you’re being told you’re done. It feels like a breakup. That’s how I’ve described my many emotions to friends and my Spotify recommendations seem to agree. The company I’d been working at for 5 years laid off 60+ people. 80% of my immediate team was let go; 50% of the greater marketing team; and almost 100% were people I knew pretty well and had befriended on some level over the years.

This is the first time I’ve ever been laid off, but I wanted to share some of my survival tips. I’ve tried to steer these away from Moz-specifically, because I’d have these feelings about any job I loved and was at for 5 years. Additionally, Moz’s CEO Sarah and its founder Rand have written several posts on their strategy change and the layoffs, which are much better places to ask Moz-specific questions as they are in-the-know.

1. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

I can’t repeat this enough — it’s not your fault. Layoffs are always about budget and/or changes in strategy (which usually tie back into budget). Most people affected by layoffs couldn’t have done anything to prevent the company’s layoffs. It wasn’t my fault I got laid off. Even if the inner A+ student, who’d gotten lots of promotions, performance-based raises, and publicity for the company, among others things, rebels against this idea that there was nothing she could do: there wasn’t. Being laid off isn’t the same as being fired. When lots of people are let go, only a tiny fraction and sometimes absolutely zero could’ve affected or changed this fate.

2. Everyone has an opinion on the layoffs (and how they could’ve been avoided or fixed and on the company’s outlook).

You have your opinion on what happened. Your fellow laid off folks have their opinions. Your left behind coworkers have theirs. The executives who made the decisions have theirs. And that’s just a start. Everyone has a different worldview and a different angle. You all have different stakes in the game and played different roles.

When you have a large business and/or a large community, the general public will also have their opinions on what happened or why it happened.

Speculation on Moz's layoffs around SEO and link building

Some are extra outlandish, because not everyone understands how business works.

Is anyone right? Well, maybe. Or maybe not.

3. You will go through the stages of grief.

Expect to feel all fives stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You did lose something major from your life, and depending on how your work-life balance is or how much your career matters to your self-worth (which has many factors), you may feel them and go through them again and again. I’ve felt all five of them, and just when I think I’m at acceptance, something comes up and I’m jolted to another phase.

You want to try to ride out these emotions in appropriate places. Even if you’re ready to watch the world burn or crawl into your bed and never get out again. For myself, crying and anger are closely linked by a helpless feeling. (Yep, if you’ve ever seen me cry — with a few exceptions like deaths of family members or hurt animals — I’m likely only crying because it’s inappropriate to punch someone or something.) I hate crying.

I was retained to run one last MozCon (Moz’s annual conference with 1,600 people over three days), which meant about a month’s work post-being laid off. I knew when my last day was. At MozCon, I had a flood of all these emotions. But I knew this would happen. I asked select, trusted friends to help me shepherd my feelings if I went down a dark path or got too upset. There were a few times which I quickly excused myself to cry in a bathroom stall.

4. Your body will rebel.

All this stress, all this grief, it won’t do any favors to your body. I even tried to keep my regular exercise schedule, but my body rebelled. I had diarrhea for two weeks after the initial layoffs. I got horrible cramps and my period came early on my last official workday. I lost my appetite. My chronic pain issues have flared up, and I feel like my neck and shoulders are in a vice, even after a professional massage. And I’m not sleeping well at all, which just adds to the irritability, stress, and paranoia about the future. Oh, and my sex drive is at an all-time low and I’m exhausted all the time. Why did I just TMI? Probably because no one likes to talk about this.

5. It gets hella awkward.

After 24 hours of being told I was being laid off, I became an expert in telling people that I’d been laid off. Why? Because I had to tell so many people. Not only did I tell my family and friends, but also community members, social media followers, and all those people I was working with for the next month. Moz’s layoffs made the local, tech, and SEO news. I had 40 speakers to tell them that MozCon was still happening, and I’d be there long enough to have that experience with them. I’ve worked other places where layoffs happened, and well, the company was small enough that those laid off didn’t need to tell the world.

Family

The first family members I told were my parents. The layoffs just happened, and what I told them was from a very passionate and upset me talking privately to my parents. (Remember what I said about everyone having an opinion?) After I was done, my stepdad, who’s a salesperson, said, “When you go into interviews, you should spin it like you left.” To which I responded, “This was in the Seattle Times.”

That weekend, my maternal grandmother came to visit with cousin, who’d recently quit the Marines and also on the job hunt. My grandma first expressed her disapproval at my cousin’s recent tattoos and his job viability, and then asked me if I was going to dye my hair back to a natural color. We both pointed out that if future employers had issues with tattoos or purple hair, they probably wouldn’t actually want either of us.

Of course, as grandma said goodbye to me and my boyfriend Jacob, she told him to take care of me and then made Jacob promise he wouldn’t let me be homeless. (For the record, I own the house we live in.)

Left behind coworkers

Everyone at Moz was upset and impacted by the layoffs, even if they weren’t let go. I got really good at asking someone if they were laid off too as the tears flew out. I also quickly learned that I’d have to message a lot of people that I was gone after a month. The morning post-layoff announcement, I ran into a left behind coworker getting morning tea who was elated to see I was still there and assumed I wasn’t laid off. I burst that bubble.

Because I was there for another month, I got to say goodbye or chat with many people. But not everyone did. There were people out on parental leaves, sabbaticals, honeymoons, vacations, speaking gigs, or just taking sick time. (Life is what happens when there’s ~200 people in a company.) Most of the 28%, as we’ve nicknamed ourselves, had to leave that very day. I urge anyone left behind in a layoff situation, who feels like they want to reach out to someone laid off, to do it. It’s awkward, but the ball’s really in your court as the laid off person tries to heal. Trust me, they will likely want to hear from you.

Guilty executives

Except perhaps from the executive involved in the decisions leading to the layoffs and its execution. I don’t use “guilty” like a court of law, but the personal emotions of feeling guilty about making the decision to have the layoffs because it impacts people and their livelihoods. No doubt executives at Moz felt this. I’m not saying executives shouldn’t talk to or acknowledge those they laid off — in fact, that’s terrible too — but people need time to grieve. As the laid off person, you probably don’t want to burn bridges, but you do not have to comfort an executive full of guilt. If an executive wants to continue a personal relationship with you, they must reach out to you and not expect anything.

Psychologists call this the Circle of Grief or Ring Theory. It’s mostly been applied to terminal illness (or close calls), deaths, and other tragedies. But it also applies to layoffs as traumatic loss. Here’s the brief rundown:

Circle theory

Where are your boundaries?

Draw a small circle and put the name of the person closest to the tragedy in the middle of that circle. Then, draw a larger (concentric) circle and put the name of the person closest to the center person–for adults, this is usually a spouse or partner, but may be children, parents, a colleague, or closest friend. Keep drawing larger circles around the other circles and add the layers of people–close friends, more distant friends, members of the community, etc. Here are the rules:

The person in the center circle can cope any way he/she wants. The job of those in the larger circles is to listen and support.

When talking to a person in a circle smaller than yours, remember that you are talking to someone closer to the tragedy. Your job is to help. You are not allowed to dump your anger, fear, or grief to people in circles smaller than yours. Express these emotions to those in your circle or larger circles.

The concept is simple–’comfort in, dump out.’

PR and community

I mentioned Moz’s layoffs were picked up by the news, I should also mention that Moz has a community of over 700,000 people. All people who have questions and opinions on what went down.

While I’ve been humbled by the outpouring and kind words from many community members, it’s important to still have boundaries. They aren’t the ones to express some of those stages to grief too. (Even I’ve slipped up, but caught myself.) As a community manager by trade, I spent a lot of time cultivating that community, and while they may like me, I’ve also instilled brand love in them.

Scott makes a comment about me

Thanks for the kind words about my work at Moz, Scott.

As not-an-employee-anymore, you do not have to respond to any blog comments, social media posts, pr inquiries, etc. because that is not your job anymore. You are not part of the company’s future. (Rand responded to the comment above.) And if you get trolls — which yes, some vile slime creatures came out of the woodwork — it’s the company’s responsibility to deal with them. Also asking your friends to report and block them works well too.

Future employers

Practice what you will say to future potential employers when they ask you about the layoffs. Don’t practice to rehearse something false, but practice because you don’t want to be caught off-guard by emotions and grief. You also don’t want to take away from your interview time by focusing in on the recent past, instead of your greater accomplishments and ideas for their business that will get you hired.

And yes, sometimes potential employers are after gossip or smell blood in the water and an opportunity for their business. You want to be able to shift the conversation and be okay acknowledging it hasn’t been the greatest time.

6. Trust will need to be rebuilt.

I’m already an anti-authoritarian socialist who believes in the communal good and that life (including work) is not a zero sum, winner-takes-all game. Being laid off, hits all these core beliefs hard. It’s hard to feel like you aren’t just a salary + benefits number in a ledger. Trusting a corporation with your livelihood again will take time. However, you may have to choke your lack of trust down, because you probably need another job more quickly than the time it takes to fully heal. You just don’t want to become that person, who 5-to-10 years later, is still bitter.

7. Don’t flush away the good memories with the bad ones.

If you enjoyed your job in any way, don’t let the layoff ruin those happy memories or friendships. You may have to put all your staff shirts in a box in your attic for the moment. But I loved my job at Moz. I’m proud of my work there. There was a reason I stuck around for 5 years, and that reason was beyond a steady paycheck. I’ll never forget diving with great white sharks in Cape Town with my coworkers; meeting my boyfriend over a wine and an ill-advised game of Cards Against Humanity; the splotchy purple bruises from volleyball; December no pants month; What the Fancy?; the time I accidentally took Tylenol PM when hosting a webinar; or every single MozCon. When you’re somewhere for that long, you have seen the good times with the bad times. The layoff isn’t my only sour memory of Moz, and if I didn’t let the other not-so-great times tarnish the parts I loved, why would I let this?

8. Apply for unemployment.

Even Ayn Rand collected social security. Applying for unemployment, yes, it brought up those stages of grief again. Not to mention, it’s annoying, and there’s lots of paperwork. But this is the time unemployment’s for. It’s there so you don’t have to take any job, just to have a job. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.

9. Survival is insufficient.

You probably feel panicked. I know I feel it every single day. When I look through jobs or talk to people about opportunities that aren’t right for me — bad product/community match, too junior a role, too little or no pay, relocation required, etc. — I remind myself what Seven of Nine said, “Because survival is insufficient.” You don’t get to go back to the role you were laid off from, but you are carving out a new normal and a new part of your life. I want to be happy again.

However, I also have to be happy in this transition period too.

Ask for help.

I’m pretty terrible at asking for help. My community manager instinct always tells me to promote and help others. But now’s the time to reach out to people you haven’t talked to in a while, to keep those relationships going, to call in some favors, and to be honest when you need something or can’t do something. Maybe it’s a friend buying you a drink or when I ask my friends to redirect conversations. Maybe it’s connecting the dots on LinkedIn to a hiring manager of that role you’re interested in or asking someone to reach out to their network.

Do self-care while job hunting.

Job hunting is exhausting. One of the 28% lamented that job hunting seemed like more work than actually having a job. It’s certainly a different kind of stress which makes it seem that way. Money’s stressful, and not having it is more so. However, it’s okay to take a day to sleep in and binge some Netflix or go to the Fair. It’s okay to bake a pie and snuggle with your girlfriend and cats on the couch. (Yes, I did all these things.) Or clean your house top-to-bottom and go to yoga. (I also did those.) Or write a blog post so you can remind yourself to do some self-care.

10. The future will be brighter.

There are few wounds which we carry through life and never quite heal. I don’t believe this layoff will be one. I don’t believe it should be one. I don’t want to be someone who can’t imagine a better job. (Especially since Star Trek still isn’t a reality.) If I can dream bigger than my Moz role, than my future will be brighter. It may look a little dim now, but it will be brighter.

About Erica

Erica McGillivray spends too much contemplating the socioeconomic importance of the bananaphone. Ring, ring, ring. Bananaphone. She loves cats, soap opera plots in comic books, and dreams of flying in the stars. Erica loves being a community manager.
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10 Responses to 10 Rules for Surviving Being Laid Off

  1. Karl Sakas says:

    Thanks for sharing, Erica! I’m sorry you were affected; sounds like a strange month between hearing and your last day, especially around MozCon.

    • Erica says:

      It was indeed a strange month, Karl. There were good things about being on longer — getting closure, wrapping up MozCon, getting to have more conversations with former coworkers, etc. — but at the same time, a constant added stressor of knowing my days were numbered and the sadness around that.

  2. Charissa says:

    Thanks for sharing. So sorry for all you’re going through… but I am excited for your future. 🙂

    • Erica says:

      Thanks, Charissa. I really do believe that things will be better once this transition period is buttoned up and smoothed out. I’m definitely a person who needs purpose and routine and for whom work is very important. But as Leslie Knope says, “We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.”

  3. Doc Sheldon says:

    Good for you, for shaking out the wrinkles and talking about it, Erica! I know it’s not easy to keep a smile plastered across your face, while everyone around you seems to be saddened by what happened. Been there…
    I have no doubt you’ll land somewhere else where you can be just as productive, just as happy, and eventually, you’ll realize that as much as being laid off sucked, it made you tougher, more resilient, a better manager… and even a little more human.
    Break a leg!

  4. Ray says:

    Thank you for sharing. I’m glad you were so open about this and your feelings. I was laid off 11 years ago and I still think about my old team (we all lost our jobs because the company imploded). I worked through some of my feels in my writing and the hurt does fade, but it is something that sticks with you.

    • Erica says:

      It’s definitely the people I will miss most. I can’t imagine how much these feelings and emotions would be even more amplified by the company imploding. No matter how things turn out, it’ll be a life lesson.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story with us. This type of thing is never easy for anyone, and a painful reminder that no one is invincible or immune, even the best of the best – which you are. But it is also a powerful reminder that we are strong, we are capable, we are smart and durable and tough and resilient in the face is adversity – which you are. In every adversity is opportunity, and I cannot wait to see what you do with your opportunity.

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