Monday, April 26, 2010

Working in the Post-Loyalty Era Chock Full of Layoffs and Job Loss

At-will employment is the only game in town—your employer has the right to lay you off or fire you at any time regardless of whether you work full time or freelance (unless you have a contract that states otherwise). The only upside is that you have the same right and can quit without cause.

It feels empowering to leave a company when it’s on your own terms. But, the knife cuts both ways. Given the state of our economy, it’s likely that at some point in your career, you’re going to get the axe.

Where did the loyalty go? It’s gone because work is about monetary profits, at every level, and not about the human connections we foster while working. This is genuinely distressing and tragic. Here’s the thing:

You have to try to get over it.

There are things you can do to feel better as you come to terms with job loss. Recognize that getting over it takes time, and a person needs to make space to feel the grief and the loss. Talk to family and friends and allow them to offer you emotional support and kindness.

Also consider the following:

Expect that no job will last forever, or maybe even a year
Dramatically alter your point of view of what it means to have a full-time job. The odds of you being at the same workplace in five years are tiny. Expect that you’re going to have to keep finding new work. As a freelancer, I live in this cycle, but more acutely. Businesses hire me for an estimated period of time which often turns out to be dramatically shorter than expected if clients put projects on hold or abandon projects altogether. I often find myself looking for new work every few months rather than every few years. This is simply a microcosm of the larger economic trend of frequent job change.

You are not your job
We all have facets of our personalities that are much broader than what gets expressed through a job. Further, I find that I’m different on every job, as job requirements and variable group dynamics bring out various aspects of my personality and skills. So, working in different environments challenges me to explore different aspects of myself and reminds me that I’m much more than the skill set I’ve been hired for. You will not be the same person you were on your next job.

Don’t be too picky
There is no such thing as a dream job. Or rather, you might find yourself in a dream job, but there will always be aspects of it that are not so dreamy. You should still try to find what you want in life, and continue to work towards that. But in the meantime, isn’t it nice to have some income so that you’re not totally freaking out about your bank account? You may not love an interim job, but maybe there are things you can learn from it, like new skills. Plus, you never know who you might meet, which leads me to my next point.

Network your ass off
Every job you have is a chance to broaden your network to help you find future work. Growing your network is a huge benefit of changing jobs. Ultimately, it’s other people who will help you find new work. There is irony in the fact that the human connection is precisely what businesses de-prioritize in the face of profits, but other people are who will save you.

Don’t underestimate the power of your personality
It’s extremely important to learn to get along well with other people. You need to be good at your job, but you equally must try to play well with others. People like being around people who are friendly and smile and encourage others. Camaraderie counts. Even if you get laid off, your network will remember that you’re likeable and fun to be around. If you are up for a position against someone who has the same or even better skills, you have a VERY good chance of getting the job simply because your reputation will precede you.

Expect no consideration
With a layoff, don’t expect kindness or conciliation from your employer. You’ll be lucky if you get severance. And they will probably make you sign something that says you won’t sue them. Even if your boss is/was your friend, they’re probably not going to be very friendly on the day you’re left go. Expect to be escorted out immediately. This feels terrible, but it’s good if you can at least be mentally prepared and accept that this might happen to you at some point in your life.

You can be expendable and good at what you do
If at all possible, don’t take a layoff personally. Here’s the thing: we’re all ultimately replaceable. On a metaphysical level, that’s not true, but on a business level, it’s completely true. Companies only care about profits at the end of the day, so none of us is safe. However, take heart: because it’s often about money, it’s not actually about YOU.

Chances are you DO have skills that are transferrable to other jobs that can be useful. Keep focused on what you are capable of and don’t internalize the belief that a layoff or even being fired means that you weren’t good at your job. We all have room for improvement, but surely there is something you know you can do well.

The world hasn’t changed, you changed
Personal responsibilities like having a mortgage or a family can make job loss or changing jobs seem more daunting, but that’s an illusion. Sure, you may have more responsibilities, but you still have the exact same chances and opportunities that someone with fewer responsibilities has. Don’t let fear close you off from taking risks that can bring you better work.

Save up for rainy days
If at all possible, have a 6 month emergency stash of cash that will cover all your living expenses in the event of a layoff. A cash cushion is ultimately what makes a layoff the most bearable.

It gets easier
I’ve been laid off twice from full time jobs, and a few times from freelance jobs that ended prematurely. It always hurts, but I’ve found that the more I’ve been laid off, the more easily I’m able to handle the situation, and I know from previous experience that if I persevere, I’m likely to find work again.

The Upside
Job loss or frequent job change (if you’re a freelancer) can help you adopt a more realistic perspective about how the capitalist world works. It sucks that the business world isn’t more humane, but the truth is that it is not, so we have to give ourselves the tools we need to protect ourselves as much as we can.

Job loss can help us come to a greater understanding that nothing in life is permanent, which creates a stronger tolerance for change. This is a perspective that we can bring to every aspect of our lives. The challenge is to live in the moment and not prematurely judge what happens to us as “bad.” It’s possible that getting away from a particular job could be a blessing in disguise.

There is actually something exciting about being left go—it means that your destiny is back in your hands to a large degree, and now is the time for you to put yourself back out there and see what the rest of the world has in store for you.