Things change fast. Not too long ago, people used to join their first jobs and leave only upon retirement. If ever, people would just quit their jobs intermittently to join a different company. Losing your job was less heard of and rarely happened only in circumstances such as company’s bankruptcy or acquisitions.
But things have changed dramatically in the last 10 years. The business world is much more unpredictable and the risk of job loss is high irrespective of whether you’re working at small startup or a big MNC or whether you’re a new employee or a decade old. As per our estimate based on this Inc42 report, more than 1,00 Indian startups closed down or downsized their headcount in last 2 years, thus affecting 10,000+ startup employees.
Despite this staggering number and the drastic emotional, social & financial impact of such an event, it is unfortunate that there is not enough awareness on this topic. People who have faced it don’t want to discuss their experience & people who have not faced prefer to live in make-believe world thinking such things would never happen to them.
This is not a healthy situation. It’s time we modern professionals discussed this subject more openly. Having watched such situations closely in my career and after interacting with 100s of employees laid off by Flipkart and AskMe while running CutShort, here are some tips I’d give to people in this unfortunate situation of job loss.
Control Your First Reaction
Losing your job often comes as a cold shock. Your colleagues were an integral part of your life and your company kept telling that you were a part of a big family, so naturally this news comes as if cold water has been thrown on your face:
When this happens, your mental state swings between the 5 phases (“denial”, “anger”, “bargain”, “rejection” and “acceptance”) described in the Kübler-Ross model. These questions start hitting your mind:
- This can’t be true. I worked so hard for this company.
- Why me? There are others who should go first.
- They have no right to do this. Should I refuse to accept this decision?
- What did I do wrong?
If it’s a layoff, the reason is self explanatory – the company couldn’t afford you. But in case you were fired, the answers to these questions might not be obvious (although a good management team would have given you enough clues before doing so).
In case these questions are unanswered, there is little you can do. Arguing with the management will likely be unproductive – since they know that in such a delicate and emotionally charged situation, things could spiral out of hand quickly.
So all you can really do is be calm and don’t let the emotions take over. You need time – making sure you don’t burn your bridges in a fit of anger is important.
On Legal Options
Questioning the legality of this decision is something that will likely come to your mind. May be your family or friends will bring it up. Like in other matters, fighting a legal battle is time consuming, costly and distracting. Avoid this step unless you have a strong reason to do so, such as in cases of:
- Wrongful termination: Even a private company can’t fire you based on discrimination based on your race, gender, marital status, sexual preferences, maternity status, etc. Consult a lawyer if you think this is the case.
- Terms of agreement: Companies need to honour the terms of your employment including the notice period, severance pay, leave encashment etc as outlined in the agreement. If not, then you can bring it up with the company management and chances are they will address those issues.
Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer. Consult one if you believe you were fired illegally.
Calm Yourself – It’s Just A Job After All!
Although losing your job is hard, see it in this perspective – people today change jobs every 3 years – meaning this was only 1 job out of the 12 you’d have in your entire career! So certainly this is not the end of the road – but a mere speed bump.
After all, jobs come and go. Brian Acton was rejected by Facebook and Twitter before he co-founded WhatsApp.
He continued to learn and build and sold WhatsApp TO Facebook for $18Bn just a few years later.
Shake Off The Negativity That Comes With Losing Your Job
Events like this can make you less confident and unsure about yourself. So, the first thing to do is to start believing in yourself again.
If you were laid off due to restructuring or cost cutting then it wasn’t obviously your fault. More and more people now understand such situations as not only startups but even big MNCs are forced to do this all the time. When Flipkart or Askme laid off their employees – other companies were quick to throw a red carpet to the best of their employees.
If you were fired on performance grounds, it’s often not due to the quality of the work but about managing expectations of your boss or gelling with different team members. Do ask for feedback and improvement areas and take it as a positive criticism. Review your strengths, your weaknesses and identify key improvement areas.
The bottom line – you should stop thinking about the past and focus on the future. If you stay strong, you are bound to bounce back. It’s hard, but critical to the next step below.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
Given that losing a job is still relatively new thing in the Indian society, your instinct might be to avoid facing your friends and families.
Fight this instinct. Believe me, your colleagues and friends want to help you but often don’t reach out since they are just as uncomfortable about this situation as you are. Opening up to them will make you feel better and might get you more help for your next move.
This is psychologically important – opening up to people will reduce your stress levels and you will stop feeling like a victim. This will set up the right mental frame of mind for the next step.
While it’s odd to not go to your job every morning, remember it is also liberating. You no longer have to mechanically go through your daily routine. You now have a fresh set of choices that you never had before.
Since you have nothing to lose now, take this opportunity to reboot yourself. Review your professional interests. What do you most like? What you don’t?
If you are strong and are prepared – you can actually turn the setback of losing your job into opportunities. Remember Steve Jobs, who was thrown out of Apple only to return later to play one of the most impactful roles ever in modern corporate history.
So, to sum up – take your time. Learn a new skill, take time out for yourself and your family. Enjoy this slack time – you won’t get it again once you start your next thing!
Finding Your Next Job – Don’t Lie And Don’t Be Hasty
You need to be careful when talking to your next employers. You don’t have to scream that you were laid off or got fired, but also shouldn’t hide the fact. Be honest and tell them what happened without bad mouthing anyone. You don’t need to take the entire blame, saying something like this might be enough:
“My stint at the company went well, although in the end it didn’t quite work out due to some differences with the management. My work style is more X, while they wanted someone with Y.”
Most mature companies know these things are normal and will appreciate the honesty. They might do a more detailed evaluation but that’s better than they hearing a different version from someone else. If they don’t move forward after hearing this truth, well it’s okay – they were probably not a right fit for you anyway.
Secondly, while I know you’re probably restless to have a full time job immediately, don’t accept any job that comes by. You are trying to recover from a bad situation right now – getting into an ill fitting role in haste could impact your future adversely. I know some very talented people who took careless decisions in the short term, couldn’t perform at their next roles and grew increasingly less confident of their true worth. It’s a cascading effect that has the potential of limiting your career growth.
You don’t want to be too picky, but definitely wait for something you’re excited about. Working at a place where you challenge yourself and get to do what you do best is what will make your successful in longer run.
Losing your job is definitely a big jolt. And like it or not, it’s a risk every modern professional should be prepared to face today.
Prevention is better than cure – so I always recommend professionals to continuously upgrade their skills. Getting stuck in one kind of job for too long makes you a specialist, but also makes you redundant if that job faces a fundamental shift.
Remember – if you are valuable and adaptable – such situations as losing your job might not hit you. And even when they do, you would be confident and readily employable by other companies who would even pay a premium for you.