It ain’t pretty, and it ain’t avoidable. The topic of layoffs has dominated mainstream media for much of 2001 as companies ranging from Daimler-Chrysler to Lucent Technologies have announced cutbacks, downturns, and buyouts with increased regularity. From CNBC’s daily NASDAQ vigil to the Wall Street Journal‘s dotcom body count, business news has begun to resemble the obituary section of a local newspaper more and more. As the facts, figures, and frustrations pile higher each day, high-impact players and leading companies are slipping into a state best described as uncomfortably numb.
This fall, Fast Company weighed in on the layoff coverage with a Web-exclusive series and a contest — the Lap(top) of Luxury competition to win a Dell Inspiron 4000 Notebook computer. Our Hard Times, Smart Strategies series set out to interrupt the gloom and doom long enough to offer some real strategies, tools, and inspiration for cutting back and staying fast.
Our stories about layoffs, job-search priorities, and sabbaticals provoked a firestorm of response from our readers, who debated the realities and opportunities of today, and offered alternative solutions and personal stories. Here is what they had to say about moving forward in backlash times.
… that your father never told you. Truth #1: There are worse things than losing a job — like staying in a bad job for “security.”
Thank You, Sir. May I Have Another?: “I was laid off twice in 15 months, and both layoffs were the best things that ever happened to me. I left corporations and found a job at a small company. I finally feel appreciated and recognized for my abilities. If I were laid off tomorrow, I would simply start networking; I’m convinced that I would have a better job in less than two months.”
— Barbara Mathieson
Downhill From Here: “After being laid off, your next job will be worse — however much you would like it to be different. You will have to settle for something less, because your next employer will only hire you for what you already know how to do. If you can afford to take off for a while, by all means do so. It is already too late to hurry; your best bet is an improving economy.”
— Don Michaels
Feeding Frenzy: “Feeding my soul is nice, but feeding my family is more important.”
— Hank Bordowitz
Cycle Harder: “As business cycles become more compact, we will be comforted (or discomforted) by the fact that one cycle follows another — times of prosperity and times of layoffs alternate. To prepare for the coming cycles, become an outstanding leader — be in demand to facilitate creative teams of motivated employees in driving change.”
— Chuck Glover
Dead or Alive?: “People have come to equate what they do with who they are. When they lose their job, they experience two out of the three forms of death: death of self-image and death of hope. In some unfortunate cases, the third form of death — clinical death — is also a consideration.”
— E.L. Sopow
The good news: You’ve found a good job in a company that’s built to last. The bad news: Lots of others are jockeying for the same position. Here are strategies to help you stand apart while everyone else is standing around.
An Assignment: “Break down your previous role(s) in terms of deliverables, and make sure you include even the most mundane tasks. Now rate yourself against those deliverables in terms of Liked, Disliked, Good At, Could Improve. What have just created is a primer for your new role.”
— Greg Fields
Learn how to transform a layoff into a savvy sabbatical — a time to recharge your batteries and learn new skills without sabotaging your résumé. Author Hope Dlugozima offers tips for taking six months off smart.
Student of Life: “Sabbaticals are nice if you don’t have $700 a month in student loans, car loans, and credit-card bills.”
Foreign Currency: “If you really want to take an overseas sabbatical, it can be done without saving a year’s salary. Just sit down and figure out how much money you need to live.”
Backyard Sabbatical: “You don’t have to go to Greece or Russia. I certainly can’t afford to take a sabbatical like that with a teenage son, a mortgage, two car payments, and the ever-present credit-card bill. But I have ‘semiretired’ for a while, clearing time to develop a business plan that I’m very excited about.’
— Paul S.
Old Habits, New Goals: “Just today, I turned down a job offer that would have taken me right back into the trap I worked so hard to escape last year! I’d like to say it was easy, but I’m still in the process of reinventing myself.”
— Todd Hendrickson
Vocation Vacation: “Sabbaticals are my product-development periods. They are times to do the research and writing, to advance the game to the next level, and to think about the solutions. Each sabbatical should leave you with more to offer your next employer or customer than you had when you left.”
— Bo Newman