A layoff can happen to anyone. That’s not to say that it will happen to you, but there are things you can do to minimize your exposure and a checklist of things you need to be prepared to do quickly if it should happen.

Why am I raining on your parade when you’ve just been hired, are still are basking in the glow of your success and poised to be a really great woman manager? Because I’m your coach, your cheerleader and mentor and its my job to be honest and open with you and to provide you with the tools to successfully face as many business situations as I can – good or bad.

I have never been laid off or fired - for which I consider myself fortunate. But I have had to layoff and terminate members of my direct staff. So I speak from first hand experience about how difficult the transition can be when people lose their jobs unexpectedly. Most of them were unprepared to manage the transition, personally or professionally, so I assumed the role of outplacement coach.

The same could happen to you too. Your team trusts you so if layoff rumors are out there, share everything you know about them openly and honestly. Whether you do this in a group session or one-on-one will depend on the situation.

The Doctrine of “Employment At Will”
and its Role in Layoffs

Many managers believe if they do all the right things and do them the right way, they will be immune to layoffs. This belief provides a false sense of security because of the “Doctrine of Employment at Will”.

Employment at Will is a legal concept that essentially says, in the absence of an employment contract stating otherwise, employers generally may layoff or terminate employees for any reason, no reason or even an unfair reason so long as that reason is not illegal. Conversely, an employee may resign for any reason, no reason or a seemingly unfair reason.

All states in the U.S. enforce Employment at Will, meaning that they uphold the doctrine to some degree. The exact degree varies by state – most notably in Montana, which upholds Employment at Will only during an employee’s probationary period. (Beyond that, employers in Montana must show good cause to discharge an employee.)

Visit for more information on this subject and legalities regarding this and other employment issues.

How You Can Minimize the Risk of Being Laid Off

There’s no sure-fire way to “bullet-proof” your professional life. If layoff rumors start buzzing at work, you have already done all the right things to mitigate your exposure if you have taken charge of your own professional development. You will have:

  1. Developed a uniquely valuable personal and professional brand. Anyone putting together the layoff list will come to your name and think twice before adding it!

  2. Your values and work ethic are in sync with the corporate culture. You haven’t rubbed anyone the wrong way because of what you’ve done or how you’ve done it.

  3. You are a change agent yourself so if you are there after a round of layoffs, you can help the organization through this difficult time.

  4. Your skill set is current and you’ve proven your ability to stay on top of the knowledge needed to grow in your job because you never stop learning.

  5. You are comfortable with yourself, won’t require any special handholding and won’t miss a beat meeting your team’s and your business objectives.

  6. You already have a Plan B. You’ve already asked yourself the “what if” questions and answered them without any emotional clutter driving your decisions.

    At this juncture, I would add one more thing to your Plan B that I’ve not touched on before:

  7. Always have six months of living expenses available beyond your savings. While it normally takes an average of three or four months to land a new job, having a safety net will ease your mind and buy you the time to choose the right job.

This is an especially good time to reread the entire professional development section of this site – especially if the signs and sounds of pending layoffs are rumbling in your organization.

You’ve Been Laid Off:
The First 72 Hours Are Very Important

In spite of everything you’ve done, you are on the layoff list. The following won’t allow you to go on autopilot by any means. Rather the suggestions will support you through the difficult first 72 hours and beyond as you launch and carry out your job search. You won’t have to wonder where to begin or worry about overlooking something important!

As with every other element of your career, ultimately this is up to you to manage. Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself. Once layoff decisions are made, they are rarely, if ever, reversed so it’s unlikely even your high-powered mentor will be able to change anything.

Stand tall and tell yourself: OK! So now I’m a professional on hiatus.

That being said, as part of your professional development, you will already have done the two most important things outplacement coaches and companies recommend you do immediately after learning you’ve been laid off:

You have an up-to-date resume, available at a moment’s notice in several formats. The morning after a layoff is not the time to start paraphrasing all your accomplishments in the job you are leaving.

You’ve established a business network of all the people who will be able to help you now that you’re in the market for a new job.

In addition, here are five more things The Layoff Survival Guide (by Collamer Career Consulting) insists you must do.

  1. Review your separation package. Check to be sure the package of information you receive includes:

    • Details about your severance payment (including accrued vacation time, payment of outstanding bonuses and commissions)

    • Information about outplacement or job search assistance

    • Continuation of insurance benefits (COBRA)

    • Answers to what happens with your 401K or other pension plans.

    If you have any questions about anything, ask your boss or someone in HR. You don’t have to file everything immediately, but review all the package components to be sure you maximize whatever benefits are offered to you.

    Note: I will not coach you to seek the advice of an attorney on work-related issues (except in a case of gross violation of “employment at will”). If word that you are seeking legal advice finds it’s way onto the grapevine in your business community, it may give a new employer pause – are you going to be a trouble-maker?

  2. Talk to your spouse or significant other. People have been known to go to elaborate lengths to hide a layoff. Putting it off will only make matters worse and if anyone will be on your side, they will.

  3. Talk to your children. After you’ve talked to your spouse, agree on the best way to tell the children. They have a sixth sense about this type of thing. Just be sure it is discussed in an age-appropriate manner.

  4. Let people know how they can reach you during your transition. Now isn’t the time to lose touch with the people in your network. An email is probably the best and quickest way in the short term, to be followed later with more information.

  5. File for unemployment benefits. It won’t be much but you’re entitled to it. Filing has been simplified in recent years in many states – no more the stigma of standing in long lines. See if you can file by telephone.

    Contact your state office of unemployment to see if you can file by phone. Be sure to check on how to keep your account active.

    Based on my personal management experience, I would add three more things to this “first 72-hour to do list”:

  6. Get a letter from your boss explaining that you were laid off, not terminated or fired. Be sure the letter includes a recommendation. This is a difficult time for your boss too so he or she might well appreciate it if you provide them with a draft letter ready for them to sign. Be sure you have plenty of copies on company stationery.

  7. Write interim performance appraisals for the people who report directly to you. This assumes you have been given a few weeks notice and is the ultimate classy thing to do when you are leaving a company involuntarily.

    They won’t forget you or your gracious exit!

  8. Make copies of work samples, performance reviews and other key documents. Make sure you transfer the names of your business contacts to your personal computer. A word of caution here: Some companies are strict about not letting you copy or take home anything, especially during layoffs. If you’re found in violation of such a policy, you could lose your severance package and be terminated rather than laid off. This would cause an even worse – and avoidable - set of issues.

Knowing these steps ahead of time, and acting on the ones you can, will save you a lot of grief if your layoff happens quickly - if you are immediately escorted out the door. Layoffs are not usually handled in that manner, but some companies do it fearing disruptive emotional scenes. And if you are reading this on a Monday, good deal! In my experience, most layoffs occur late in the afternoon on Fridays so you have a week to prepare.

Riding the Emotional Roller-Coaster

After you’ve checked off the above eight items on the “do within 72 hours” list, take a deep breath! Sleep late (you haven’t been able to do it in a while), treat yourself to a meal out with a friend or go on a limited shopping spree. Remember to look on the bright side. At worst, getting laid off is temporary and you will get through it – I promise!

Again, The Layoff Survival Guide comes through with some suggestions for managing the emotional roller coaster.

Don’t compare yourself to others. People in similar situations can react to them in dissimilar ways so there's no right one-size-fits-all way to manage this situation.

Become part of a support group if you are really down in the dumps. Interacting with people in the same situation who really understand what you’re going through helps you keep your perspective and sense of humor. Be honest with them about your emotions.

Recognize that luck plays a role in the job search process. Timing, market opportunities and lots of other factors all conspire together.

Avoid negative people. Hook up with friends and colleagues who think more of you than you do of yourself. They’ll keep you inspired, empowered and encouraged to move forward.

Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, exercise and eat well. Don’t allow yourself to mope around the house in pajamas all day.

Find something positive to focus on. The opportunity to spend more time with your family, a chance to explore new opportunities – there’s something positive to recognize during this difficult transition.

Keep busy. Schedule your job search activities so you don’t stare at an empty calendar. Attend a seminar, take a class, go to the library, but force yourself out of the house.

Volunteer. Helping others for just a few hours a month can give you a significant psychological boost.

Seek professional help if your sadness and sense of loss doesn’t improve or if you become seriously depressed. Remember that numbness, shock and temporary disorganization are a natural part of grieving. Just don’t let them go on too long before entering your re-organization phase – the job loss has been put in its place and you are moving on.

Ready, Set, Go for It!

You’re now ready to assess your options based on current job forecasts, develop your job search plan, fine-tune your resume, plan your interview strategies and close the deal.