Have You Been Laid Off From Work? Avoid Making These Mistakes

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Back in 2014, I was laid off from work. My contract came to an end before the grant funding for the next school year had come through. I was promised again and again that they would rehire me as soon as the money arrived. I foolishly believed them. 

Millions of people are currently in a similar situation. 

There have been mass layoffs due to the global pandemic, but many laid off employees are being reassured that they will have jobs to return to once this is all over. I hope this is true. 

But speaking from experience, being promised a job is not a guarantee. 

I believed that I’d be back to work in only a couple of months, but thanks to union rules, my job went to someone else with more seniority. It was 2.5 years before I found another full-time job. 

There is nothing wrong about being optimistic about returning to work. If it’s helping you cope right now, great! Keep thinking positively! 

But please, also think realistically. 

With all the uncertainty we are all facing, who knows what the future of work will look like. Many companies are still laying off employees. Few people truly have job security. 

Businesses might have every intention of re-opening – but many are unfortunately going to have to close, downsize, or restructure. Not everyone is going to return to their previous jobs. 

When hiring does start up again, the job hunting competition is going to be incredibly steep. You may have to reapply and compete for your old job with your former employer. And unfortunately, you might not be the strongest candidate. Or, like in my case, they may have to hire someone else instead of you due to policies or regulations. 

The reality is no one knows what is going to happen. 

If you have been laid off, furloughed, terminated or are worried about getting laid off due to redundancy, restructuring, or lack of work, you need to be as prepared as you possibly can be. 

I was not prepared at all and ended up unemployed and underemployed for years. 

Don’t repeat the same mistakes that I made after being laid off. Learn from me instead. 

Don’t Assume You’ll Be Rehired

I really liked my job and I was really good at it. My manager also liked me, as did my team and the students I worked with. But none of that mattered. Because it was a unionized position and I was laid off (and therefore no longer an active union member) my job went to an internal employee from another department instead. 

I was not rehired for reasons that had nothing to do with me or my abilities. It came down to a technicality. 

But I didn’t know that for the first 4 months. I assumed I was going to be laid off for the summer and would return to work in the fall. I treated the time off more like a summer vacation. It didn’t really dawn on me that I was, in fact, unemployed. 

Being laid off is not a vacation. 

You have no idea if you will be rehired or not. If you do get your job back, you have no idea when that will happen. You also don’t know if your role will change or if your employers will undergo reorganization or restructuring in response to whatever the new normal is. 

So don’t sit back and assume it will all be okay like I did. 

Be Proactive Instead 

It’s okay to take some time to process everything and readjust to being out of work. 

But if you don’t have any income or savings, you can’t wait to address your finances. There are ways to survive financially while you’re unemployed, including applying for supports that you may be eligible for such as unemployment insurance or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

If you are collecting unemployment benefits, have money saved in an emergency fund, still have another income source, or simply can afford to do so, it’s also okay to take some time before you start applying for work. 

Every day brings new news, after all. It can be really hard to plan ahead when there is so much uncertainty. Will you be back to work in a couple of weeks? A couple of months? A couple of years?? No one knows. 

There are still places that are hiring, such as healthcare, grocery stores, and delivery services. Unless you work in one of these in-demand industries or are open to making a career change (even if only temporarily), you won’t have much luck finding a job right now, anyway. 

But a slow job market doesn’t mean that you should wait and do nothing until it picks up again. 

There are a lot of proactive things that you can be doing right now to make yourself a stronger candidate and prepared for reemployment, whether your plan is to go back to your old job or if you’ll be applying for a new position. 

  • Update your resume
  • Draft a cover letter.
  • Practice answering common interview questions. 
  • Start job searching now, even if things are slow.
  • Set up job alerts that will notify you whenever a new job in your desired field or targeted keyword(s) is posted. 
  • Start applying for those new jobs, even if you are anticipating being rehired. 
  • Apply for remote jobs or online jobs. 
  • Upgrade your skills. Learn a new skill. Take some retraining.
  • Take up a new hobby. 
  • Monetize a hobby or skill you have.
  • Network.
  • Reconnect with friends and family.  
  • Talk with a professional. 
  • Start that project you’ve been putting off. 
  • Work on your “someday” goal.
  • Spring clean. Organize your home. Declutter. Donate or sell your unwanted items. 
  • Read. Write. Create. Cook.
  • Exercise. Meditate. 
  • Look into your finances. Create a budget.

Do what you need to do to improve yourself and your situation, so that you will be better set up for whatever does come next for you. Even if you only do a little bit each day. 

Don’t Waste Your Extra Time

Being unemployed doesn’t have many perks, but having more free time is a clear benefit. 

You are no longer at work 40 hours a week. You don’t have to commute. And you don’t have to get up and get ready for work each morning. Depending on your circumstances, this could mean you suddenly have a lot of free time. Even if you have other responsibilities, such as looking after your children, you hopefully at least have more flexibility and control over how you spend your time. 

Take advantage of this!

When I think back to those first few months when I was unemployed, I can’t even tell you how I spent my time. I’m sure there was a lot of Netflix involved, though. 

What I can tell you is that I wish I had done more with that time. I wish I had followed my own advice and focused on a few of the proactive things I’ve listed above.  

Be Productive Instead

It’s not realistic to be productive all the time, but be careful. It’s too easy to be unproductive all the time, instead. 

There’s nothing wrong with relaxing or trying to enjoy this extra time. It can be hard to focus or feel motivated when your life is thrown off. 

Some days are going to be lost to binge-watching tv or mindlessly scrolling on your phone. But some days are going to be better than that. 

Take full advantage of the good ones and don’t allow yourself to get stuck in a rut. 

Without deadlines, office hours, a manager to report to, or coworkers and clients relying on you, you need to be accountable for yourself. Creating a routine works for a lot of people. It doesn’t have to be a strict routine, but it can be if that is what works best for you. 

Or try some other productivity hacks, such as: 

  • Write a to-do list. Batch similar items together to get them done faster. Prioritize your list and start with the important tasks. Forget about anything you decide is unimportant and uninteresting. Delegate what you can. 
  • Eat the frog first by doing your most dreaded or most difficult task first and get it out of the way. 
  • Set a timer and work for 5 or 10 minutes. Most of the time, you will continue working once you start. If not, you at least made a bit of progress. 
  • Get up and off the couch. Move to a desk or table to work. Take a shower. Change out of your pajamas. 
  • Turn off the distractions. Log out. Turn the TV off. Stay off of Facebook and Google. Put your phone on silent. Shut the door.   
  • Follow your natural rhythms. If you are super-focused in the evening, plan to be productive then. You don’t have to follow the “9-5” schedule. Don’t forget to take regular breaks. 
  • Set deadlines. If you are a deadline-driver person, set deadlines for yourself and try your best to stick to them.

Productivity isn’t only related to your job search and career path. 

You are a whole person, not just a job title. Nurture the other aspects of your life, too, like relationships, your health, your happiness, your home, and your personal goals. Anything that makes your life better and gives you a sense of accomplishment is constructive, and not a waste of time.

Don’t Neglect Your Mental Health & Wellbeing

Taking some time for self-care is healthy, especially when things aren’t going the way you had hoped they would. 

Losing your job is a big deal, no matter what the circumstances are. Getting fired for poor job performance, a wrongful termination, a furlough or massive layoffs – any job loss is stressful.

Not only is there added financial stress, for many people their career is linked to their identity and feeling of self-worth. Without a job, you can feel judged, ashamed, embarrassed and worthless.

I sent out hundreds of applications and had several unsuccessful interviews. After all that rejection, I abandoned hope that I’d ever find a decent full-time job again. I ultimately convinced myself that I had no other option but to accept part-time, minimum wage jobs that I was overqualified for and uninterested in. I neglected to take care of myself, and let my unemployment define me and defeat me.

Many unemployed workers struggle to get out of bed in the morning or perform even basic tasks. For some, this could be temporary due to a lack of motivation, lack of routine, or the need to grieve your job loss. For others, it could be a lot more serious. 

The emotional effects of unemployment can shatter your confidence and mental health. Or worse. Tragically, unemployment is a strong risk factor for suicide. 

Put Yourself First Instead

Finding a job is important, but taking care of your well-being is critical. 

You matter! You are not worthless! 

If you have suicidal thoughts, are in a crisis, or are concerned even a little about your mental health or that of a loved one PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP. Find crisis support contact information and mental health resources here.  

In addition to these resources, there are other ways you can put yourself first. 

  • Look back at your accomplishments. This is great information to include on your resume and is a great confidence boost.  
  • Acknowledge and celebrate your wins – no matter how big or small.  
  • Remind yourself of your why. Why are you doing this? Why is it important? 
  • Practice gratitude. Think about what’s good in your life. Write down 3 things you’re grateful for each day. Show thanks more often. 
  • Accept your circumstances. Feeling anxiety, depression or anger are normal, so embrace the suck. You lost your job through no fault of your own. It isn’t personal. It is happening to millions of other people, too. 
  • Understand and address your stress. What are your triggers or sources of stress? Recognize what your stress looks like and how you respond to it.
  • De-stress. Learn stress management techniques, like breathing exercises and meditation.
  • Replace bad habits. If you generally cope with stress by drinking alcohol or overeating, for example, work on replacing it with a healthy alternative. 
  • Create a happy list. Write down things that make you happy. Do what you can from this list right now or as soon as you can. 
  • Set boundaries. Say no. Follow your gut. Practice being assertive when necessary. 
  • Enjoy the little things. Stop and smell the roses. Take a nap.
  • Improve your confidence. Use visualization and affirmations. Get out of your comfort zone. Let go of negativity and negative thoughts. Think positively.  
  • Get professional help. There are health care professionals for a reason. You don’t have to do this alone.  

Anything you do to feel healthier, more confident, and cope with stress, depression, and anxiety will help with your job searching and future career. It will help you process and accept being laid off. Knowing how to handle stress will help you avoid becoming burnt out. Your energy levels will improve, as will your productivity, your concentration, and your mood. 

Don’t Accumulate Unnecessary Debt

Because I was under the misbelief that I was only going to be laid off for a couple of months, we weren’t as careful with our spending as we needed to be. We told ourselves that it was okay to get into a little bit of debt now because this was temporary. We’d be able to pay it back as soon as I got back to working full-time. 

But we had no idea that that would be 2.5 years. Or that my new job would pay a 30% lower salary than I had been making.

Between my layoff and my return to work, we accumulated $25,000 in consumer debt. And had nothing to show for it. We didn’t travel or go shopping. Most of the time we couldn’t afford to buy the things we needed. We skipped paying our bills more often than I’d like to admit. 

It’s now been 6 years. And guess what? We have not paid off that initial “little bit of debt”, nor have we paid off the rest of that $25,000. 

We’ve been carrying this debt all this time, thanks to my long-term unemployment, stagnant wages, and high interest rates. Which, in case you were wondering, we’ve paid an estimated additional $19,700 in interest costs. 

In other words, this little bit of debt has grown to $44,700 and continues to grow. Between the initial debt we accumulated, the years of paying interest, and the loss of income from not working, being laid off has (so far) cost me at least $60,000.

Plan for the Worst Instead

Hope for the best, plan for the worst. 

Most people won’t be out of work for years like I was. (At least I seriously hope not!) The point I’m trying to make by sharing details about my debt is that you have no idea. You might be rehired right away and be just fine. Or you could face years of struggling through unemployment and underemployment. 

Take advantage of whatever financial support you can. Apply for and collect unemployment benefits.

Spend your severance pay and last paycheck carefully.

You might have to get into debt right now to survive. Do it! But do it carefully and mindfully. 

While a significant amount of the debt we got into was needed to survive, it’s those few slip-ups that haunt me. We shouldn’t have accumulated any more debt than was absolutely necessary.

If you are making less money (or no money at all), you simply need to spend less money and/or find a way to make more money. I say simply, but I know full well that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

With a little bit of sacrifice now, you will be in a better position in the future.  

Some ways to spend less money include: 

  • Create and follow a survival budget. I use the “How Much Money Do You Have Left?” Budget
  • Cut out all non-essential spending. Sorry, but that gym membership and premium cable package have got to go.  
  • Use cashback apps like Ibotta (US) or Checkout 51 (US & Canada) 
  • Find coupons and discount codes through sites like Swagbucks and Rakuten (US and Canada) or use browser extensions like Honey 
  • Buy extras on sale. But don’t hoard. 
  • Buy in bulk. Bulk items are usually discounted. If not, ask a staff person if they offer bulk discounts or shop at a warehouse club.
  • Buy generic store brands. 
  • Use what you already have. Eat the food that’s in your pantry or freezer. Read the books on your bookshelf. Watch the movies you already have. Mend your clothes and wear them. Become more resourceful. 
  • Call your creditors if you can’t make a payment on time (or not at all) – don’t just miss the payment. Right now people are more understanding than ever, and they may be willing to work with you. You won’t know if you don’t ask! 

Some ways to make more money include: 

  • Apply for unemployment insurance benefits or whatever financial assistance you meet the eligibility requirements for
  • Work a part-time or temporary job
    • Right now: certain industries are still hiring
    • In the future: if you are struggling to find a full-time job, you might have to try this instead 
  • Sell something – unused items, your skills, your time, a product, a service
  • Make extra money with a side hustle, gig, or online job. There are numerous ways to do so, so find the one that works best for you

Being laid off from work sucks, no matter what the circumstances are. By focusing on the things that are within your control, you can survive this challenging time – and maybe even thrive. Don’t give up! 


Amanda Kay, the founder of My Life, I Guess, provides valuable career advice and support for anyone striving to make a living and, more importantly, make a life. Whether it's navigating job searches, learning new skills, overcoming unemployment, or dealing with debt, My Life, I Guess has been a go-to resource for career guidance and financial stability since 2013. Amanda's expertise and relatable approach have been featured in trusted publications such as MSN, Credit.com, Yahoo! Finance, the Ladders and Fairygodboss.

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