I’ve worked in high tech for a long time now and have lived through many rounds of layoffs. I’ve noticed that employees generally handle the possibility and reality of getting fired quite poorly. (Disclaimer: No, I didn’t just get fired. In fact, my employer of several years seems quite happy with me. But that could change any time.)
Possibility of Getting Fired
Employees are mostly complacent about the possibility of getting fired. That is, until a colleague gets fired or their employer announces upcoming layoffs. Then most employees are nervous wrecks until it seems like layoffs are over. Then they slowly transition back to complacency. There are people who don’t follow this pattern, but most do.
Whether they are in a period of complacency or fear, few employees do much to prepare for possibly being fired. If you force yourself to confront the reality of what would happen if you lost your job, it becomes self-evident that you need emergency savings and should limit debt. But the possibility of getting fired is so scary for most employees that they refuse to allow for this possibility in their planning. The few times I’ve said to a group over lunch that I wake up every work day knowing that this might be the day I get fired, it silences the group for a while.
I can almost hear many readers’ saying to themselves, “maybe others are at risk of getting fired but not me.” People who think this way are among the many who later say “I can’t believe they fired me.”
Response to Getting Fired
After observing many people during the first couple of weeks after getting laid off, I’ve seen lots of different reactions. But there is one thing that is nearly universal: people decide to take a break for a while and not look for a new job right away. They offer various inventive reasons for this choice, but the real reason is usually quite simple.
It’s scary to put yourself out there and attend interviews. If you choose to delay looking for work, you’re just avoiding pain in the short term. But let’s take a longer view. Unless you’re wealthy, you’ll have to find new work eventually. By delaying you’re just extending the period of time when you feel lousy about yourself and you and your spouse are scared about money. Why would you want more of that?
I’m not suggesting you start interviewing on the day you get fired, but it shouldn’t take much more than a few days to process what happened to you and begin to move on. If you find new work before your severance pay runs out, you might even be able to double-dip for a while.
In summary, try to be realistic about the possibility of losing your job. In addition to financial preparations, it makes sense to do small things like get a personal email address so you’re not cut off from friends when your work address disappears. If you do lose your job, avoid making up smart-sounding reasons for delaying looking for new work. Suck it up, prepare a resume, and start hitting up colleagues and friends for ideas for finding a new job.