As someone who has experienced a layoff firsthand, I know how important it is to be prepared for the possibility of losing your job. While it’s never easy to think about being one of those selected for layoff, the truth is that it’s always better to be prepared than to be caught off guard.

If you read or watch the news with any regularity, you might think we’re already in a recession. Inflation is high, and tech layoffs have been constant for months now. But in reality, as of January 2023, the job market remains tight and the unemployment rate remains low. No recession – yet. That all might change further in the year as the Fed continues to increase interest rates as it pursues its plan to fight inflation and cool the hot labor market. If a worldwide pandemic caused by a bat coronavirus has proven anything, it’s that no one can predict the future. What we do know is that it’s important to prepare for a potential layoff in advance, whether there have been signs one might be coming or not, and definitely if you see one in your tea leaves.

If You Believe Your Layoff Is Imminent

Let’s start with the incredibly practical and immediate: Many people use their work email address for their professional affiliations and some even use it for personal reasons. Change these over to another email address. If you do get laid off, you might completely lose access to your email with no notice. If your membership in professional orgs related to your work is important to you, change the email address so you don’t lose access. Do the same with any personal emails that are coming there, especially your health insurance. I had always used my work email address for my health insurance, thinking I would always be going to a new work account – ha! I was a sweet summer child. Don’t make that mistake.

Next, I recommend two steps. First, get a copy of any legal documents you’ve signed for this employment. Have you signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)? Do you have a non-compete? You want to read these documents with fresh eyes and have them saved to a personal drive so you can refer to them when preparing your LinkedIn, resume, cover letter, and interview stories. Depending on what these documents say, you might also want to save examples of your work to a personal drive. Some workplaces strictly prohibit this so please refer back to those documents above all else. However, if you can use examples of your work for a portfolio, writing samples, or work samples, it will be incredibly helpful to you. This is your time to grab those items before you lose access to your drives.

If You Believe Your Layoff Is Coming Within This Quarter

Most people put off medical and dental care because workplaces are notorious for leave shaming. Given the state of COVID, the tripledemic, employee absenteeism, and child illness, the likelihood is that you are overworked, exhausted, and not taking care of yourself even more than normal. I’m going to need you to stop that and get on the caring for yourself train. That tooth that’s bothering you? It’s going to hurt a lot more in a few months, and without dental insurance or on COBRA, the pain intensifies. If you’ve got something that’s been bothering you, please go get it checked out. Have you been putting off preventive care? The time is now for that colonoscopy. And even if you feel as fit as a fiddle, please go for a check-up and have a general blood work panel done. Follow up on anything that comes up immediately. This is for you and anyone else on your health insurance.

Next, please stock up on your medications and those of your family members. There are obviously a great number of rules and restrictions on this, but some doctors and pharmacists will make adjustments if you tell them that you believe you will be losing your health insurance. It’s worth doing what you can, and talking to them to see if it will help.

If You Believe Your Layoff Is Coming This Year

You might think if you knew a layoff was coming this far off, you would leave rather than prep. My opinion is that there might be reasons for sticking it out. Maybe severance, maybe pride, maybe some benefit specific to your workplace. Who knows?

One of the most effective ways to prepare for a layoff this far off is to start building up your savings. This can help to cushion the blow if you do lose your job and give you the flexibility to make better choices, rather than necessary choices. You have to start somewhere! Even having one paycheck saved is better than none. And then you just keep adding to your savings account. Experts recommend having at least six months of expenses saved up in case of a layoff, but if you’ve been reading LinkedIn posts about how long it has taken some to return to the workforce, you’d probably aim for more. My personal recommendation is one year. In my family, we call this fund “the lifeboat.”

Another important long-term step in preparing for a layoff is to nurture your professional network. This can include connecting with current colleagues and vendors, joining industry-specific groups or organizations, staying active on LinkedIn, and touching base with your former colleagues and contacts. Nurturing your professional network – or even starting to build one if you’ve neglected it – can help you stay connected to potential job opportunities and can also provide valuable support and resources in the event of a layoff. Research shows that casual connections are better for a job search than warmer contacts so don’t worry about having to build lifelong friendships here.

Your current job is probably full of all sorts of “opportunities” for you to take on extra work for no additional compensation. I don’t like this at all, but I do think taking on additional responsibilities at work is a way to add a skill to your resume, work on a big project, and meet new people, which can help you with your next career move. You have to weigh the pain of the additional work with the potential benefit, but it’s definitely something to consider.

If You Believe Your Layoff Is A Sign

Maybe you love what you do and want to continue on your current career path. Or maybe you have taken 35+ Buzzfeed quizzes on what your next career should be. A layoff or potential layoff can be a good time to reassess your life and how your career fits into it. Does it fit in your life or does it take over?

Or maybe you’d just like to make more money. According to recent research, people who change jobs are more likely to experience salary growth than those who stay with the same employer. This means that if you do experience a layoff, it could be an opportunity to explore new career paths and potentially earn a higher salary.

If you’re thinking changing careers might be the answer, listen to this podcast episode where I interview Christie Nadratowski about leaving higher ed / ed tech for tech / customer success.

Remember, You Are Not Your Work

Finally, it’s important to remember that a layoff is not indicative that you are not worthy. Capitalism ties our worth as humans to our productive output. In fact, layoffs have been called by sociologists a form of “social death” – the condition of people not accepted as fully human by wider society.

You are a person who works because eating never gets old. If you live in America, your ability to care for your body, teeth, and eyes is largely connected to employment. But you, you are not your job. You are a human with loves and gripes and talents and people who love you. If you’re selected for layoff, it does not make you less. You are still worthy.

And if you’re living under the threat of layoff or remaining after organization layoffs, you are worthy too.

In conclusion, it’s always better to be prepared than to be caught off guard. By reviewing what your current situation is and taking the appropriate actions, you can be better equipped to weather the storm if you do experience a layoff. And with the potential for salary growth when changing jobs or negotiating your salary or pursuing a new career path, a layoff can even be an opportunity to change your life for the better. It certainly has been for me. So don’t be afraid to start preparing for the possibility of a layoff – it could be the best thing you ever do for yourself.

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